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POLL: US Adults Have Mixed Feelings About Self-Driving Vehicles

We found that most Americans believe that there is a self-driving vehicle available for consumers to purchase somewhere in the world.
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Dan McCarthy/Datawrapper

· less than 3 min read

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Emerging Tech Brew polled America last week. To be more specific, we teamed up with The Harris Poll to ask a nationally representative group of 1,052 US adults about self-driving.

Pulse check: Most Americans (62%) believe that there is a self-driving vehicle available for consumers to purchase somewhere in the world. As an eagle-eyed reader of this newsletter, you know that’s not true.

But, hypothetically assuming a fully autonomous vehicle (AV) were widely available, here’s a (non-exhaustive) glimpse of what we asked about:

  • 🚦 Safety-first: 48% would feel at least somewhat safe in an AV’s passenger seat vs. 59% in the driver’s seat.
  • ⚖ Liability: 75% would like more clarification on who’s legally responsible in the event of an AV-involved accident.
  • 💸 Willingness to pay: Not too high. Most who are willing to ride in an AV are relatively unwilling to pay a premium to do so.
  • 🔮 Early adopters: Gen Z (71%) and Millenials (62%) are almost twice as likely to ride as an AV passenger as Baby Boomers (32%).

Parsing the results

Americans are confused. And rightfully so. Our hunch is that they’re conflating advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) with self-driving.

21% say they’ve ridden in a car with Level 2 features engaged, which...seems high? That classification refers to ADAS that control two driving functions, like steering and braking/accelerating, at the same time. Examples include GM Super Cruise and Tesla Autopilot.

  • The term comes from SAE’s 5 Levels, which is how engineers, carmakers, and regulators benchmark automated driving systems. These terms weren’t created for consumers...and it shows.

Over-trusting Level 2—or assuming it’s self-driving—can lead to dangerous situations.

To head off some confusion, Waymo recently ditched the term “self-driving” for "fully autonomous driving tech" in its marketing and educational material. Conversely, Tesla has tested the nerves of officials by promoting a “self-driving” product, and more recently, rolling out a highly automated ADAS in beta.

Maybe related? In a world where multiple brands are selling AVs, 41% of Americans would prefer to buy one from Tesla, more than twice the share who would choose a legacy automaker. Just to over-communicate, though, we aren’t in that world.

Want more? Head to The Harris Poll’s hub with the full results. And stay tuned for something else soon. 👀

Stay up to date on emerging tech

Drones, automation, AI, and more. The technologies that will shape the future of business, all in one newsletter.