Half of American adults think automated vehicles are more dangerous than traditional vehicles operated by people, while nearly two-thirds said they would not buy a fully autonomous vehicle, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, Reuters reported April 1.
We’re not surprised, and we’re right there with the majority of the poll respondents when it comes to not trusting self-driving vehicles. Not yet.
The findings are similar to those in a Reuters/Ipsos poll last year, and are consistent with results in surveys by Pew Research Center, the American Automobile Association and others. In March 2018, after the 2018 Reuters/Ipsos poll, an Uber vehicle operating in self-driving mode struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.
Relatively few U.S. residents have seen or ridden in a self-driving vehicle, and proponents say suspicion of unknown technology is a factor.
“People are comfortable with things they know,” said investor Chris Thomas, co-founder of Fontinalis Partners and Detroit Mobility Lab. “When everybody understands the game-changing attributes of automated vehicles, how they can give you back all that time to read or work or sleep, they will start to ask about the value of that recaptured time.”
We understand that Mr. Thomas has a vested interest in extolling the virtues of self-driving vehicles. But considering how often we see drivers of conventional vehicles clearly looking away from the road and down at their phones – or worse still, texting while driving – we’re confident that less attention paid to the road by human drivers, to read or work or sleep, is the last thing we need.
Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif., came under fire after the death of Joshua Brown, a former Navy Seal and entrepreneur, in a Tesla Model S in Florida in May 2016, KGO-TV in San Francisco reported.
Brown’s car was on autopilot when his car ran into a semitrailer on the road. Both Brown and the car’s driverless technology failed to detect the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake wasn’t activated. Brown was reportedly watching a Harry Potter video at the time the Tesla crashed into the semi.
For companies investing in autonomous vehicles, public mistrust is a problem, Reuters reported.
“At the moment, those responses are largely based on zero knowledge and zero experience, so it’s mostly a visceral reaction to something they read about, like the (2018) Uber crash in Arizona,” said Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis, and the author of several books on future transportation.
The reaction for some may be visceral, but ours isn’t based on zero knowledge: It’s based on the knowledge that one passenger of a self-driving car died when the technology couldn’t distinguish a white tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky. It’s based on the knowledge that another vehicle in self-driving mode killed a pedestrian.
Self-driving expert Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, said a number of companies “don’t actually want to sell people these cars — they want to rent us these services. They want us to pay every month, every trip.”
That’s a perfectly acceptable business model, but for us, beside the point.
The passenger death in Florida and the pedestrian death in Arizona are not acceptable losses.
To again reference Mr. Sperling’s comments, we want to see ample evidence of crash-test dummies having the experience of not being crushed or run over, and to see that knowledge applied to eliminate or significantly reduce incidents such as the one which took Joshua Brown’s life, before we’re ready to welcome self-driving cars to the intersection of Washington Avenue and Ohio Street in Racine, or to the numerous on- and off-ramps of the Marquette Interchange or Milwaukee.