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Study: Autonomous Vehicle Awareness Rising, Acceptance Declining

August 16, 2018

ATLANTA — In the race for self-driving cars, building consumer trust when it comes to safety is just as important as building the technology. According to findings from the Cox Automotive’s “Evolution of Mobility Study: Autonomous Vehicles” study, consumer awareness of driverless vehicles has skyrocketed and desire for autonomous features is high.

Conducted by Vital Findings on behalf of Cox Automotive, the study found that 84% of the 1,250 consumers surveyed online in May still want the option to drive themselves. However, only 16% of respondents said they would feel comfortable letting an autonomous vehicle drive them without the option of being able to take control. The number of respondents who believe roadways would be safer if all vehicles were fully autonomous vs. operated by people decreased 18 percentage points in just two years.

“As awareness around the development of autonomous technology increases, we’re seeing some dramatic shifts in consumer sentiment,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “People now have a deeper understanding of the complexities involved when creating a self-driving car, and that has them reconsidering their comfort level when it comes to handing over control.”

With mobility services as a primary focus area, Cox Automotive continues to study the trends in alternatives to vehicle ownership, autonomous vehicles and other automotive technology, and this study reveals the growing shifts in consumer perception for the various levels of autonomy.

Results of the study indicate that self-driving vehicles are seen as less safe by consumers compared to two years ago, most notably with vehicle autonomy preference shifting from Level 4 to Level 2 — the level currently available in most new vehicles.

The Society of Automotive Engineers currently recognizes five levels of vehicle autonomy, ranging from Level 0 (human-only control) to Level 5 (no human control). In a similar 2016 study from Kelley Blue Book, when survey respondents were asked to make a choice between the different levels, Level 4 autonomy hit the “sweet spot” by providing all the benefits of full vehicle autonomy without stripping away the option of driver control. Now attitudes around self-driving technology have reversed, with nearly half of consumers in Cox Automotive’s new study indicating they would never buy a Level 5 vehicle (49%, up from 30% in 2016).

By demographic, Generation Z (12- to 22-year-olds) and Millennials (23- to 36-year-olds) are less hesitant, with less than half of respondents from those segments saying they would never purchase a Level 5 (Generation Z at 48% and Millennials at 39%).

The likely driver of this change in consumer sentiment toward autonomous vehicles are recent high-profile accidents involving autonomous vehicles, cast a shadow on driverless appeal and software. Study respondents who were unaware of those incidents, including the self-driving fatality in March 2018, are just as likely as those aware of the incident to believe roadways would be safer if all vehicles were operated by people as opposed to autonomous vehicles (54% vs. 55 percent, respectively). Three-fourths of consumers say fully autonomous vehicles need real-world testing to be perfected, but 54% prefer this testing take place in a different town or city from where they live, according to Cox Automotive’s March 2018 self-driving car incident consumer poll.

Despite some negative media coverage, consumers want, and expect, semi-autonomous features, particularly those centered around safety, signaling a disconnect between consumer perception of safety tech features vs. fully autonomous vehicles. In fact, 54 percent of respondents agree that semi-autonomous features make people better drivers. Collision warning alert systems and collision avoidance systems are top-ranked features considered a must-have in the next vehicle purchase/lease.

“There is a major opportunity, and a real need, for automakers and mobility providers to help educate consumers and further guide autonomous vehicles in their development,” said Joe George, president of Cox Automotive’s mobility solutions group. “Autonomous safety feature adoption will be critical in creating future autonomous technology advocates.”

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