Despite Intrigue With Self-Driving Vehicles, Consumers Still Crave Control

American drivers are a conflicted bunch. On one hand, we are fascinated with the idea of a self-driving (or autonomous) vehicle. But when push comes to shove, we don’t really want to give up control, at least not all of it. 

A study released today from Kelley Blue Book explores the current American mindset on self-driving vehicles by age/generation, among luxury versus non-luxury owners.

Surprisingly, the research reveals that Americans are most comfortable with the vehicles currently on the road today, believing that they are significantly safer than models with a higher level of autonomy, according to the 2016 Kelley Blue Book Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study.

KBB commissioned the national study to understand current consumer perceptions and misconceptions of autonomous vehicles overall and by each level of autonomy. The survey, conducted by market research firm Vital Findings, includes responses from more than 2,200 U.S. residents between the ages of 12-64 years old, weighted to Census figures by age, gender and ethnicity, and that have a variety of residential and ownership patterns. 

Consumers are torn between the need for safety and the desire for control, with 51% of respondents replying that they prefer to have full control of their vehicle, even if it’s not as safe for other drivers, while 49% prefer to have a safer roadway for all, even if that means they have less control over their own vehicle. 

There are six levels of vehicle autonomy identified by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), from Level 0 (human-only control) to Level 5 (no human driver). I doubt the average consumer is familiar with the varying levels, but maybe as more self-driving features are incorporated into vehicles, they will catch on.

Many Americans are interested in purchasing vehicles with semi-autonomous features, such as automatic stop and lane departure correction, which falls under Level 2.  Available today in certain vehicles, these features are automated, but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle. 

If you’ve never driven a vehicle with lane departure correction, it can be a little disconcerting at first to feel the car pulling itself back into your lane. When there are no other drivers around, it’s fun to play around with, to see how far you can drift before the car wakes up and pulls you back. As for the automatic stop, it’s kind of like being in the driver’s training vehicle where the instructor has his own brake pedal. 

The results remind me of recent ads from Kia. which amusingly show off such features. Highlighting the 8-second attention spans of most Americans,  the spots show how the car's features can save easily distracted drivers, who are too busy fantasizing about being the next star on The Voice or on the basketball court.

While consumers are familiar with those lower levels of vehicle autonomy driving, awareness of the higher levels is limited, with 6 out of 10 respondents admitting that they know little or nothing about autonomous vehicles. For half of the survey respondents, the perception of safety and personal comfort with autonomous technology diminished as the level of autonomy increased.

However, not all Americans are hesitant about the technological future of their automobiles. Not surprising, respondents in the tech-savvy pre-driving Gen Z (12-15 years old) age range are ready to get on board with autonomy and consider themselves the most educated about autonomous vehicles.  The majority (67%) of pre-driving Gen Z respondents believe they will see fully autonomous vehicles in their lifetime. Forty-three percent of pre-driving Gen Z respondents report that they know a lot about autonomous vehicles compared to only 1% of Baby Boomers (51-64 years old). 

A majority of current luxury vehicle owners also report more awareness of the higher levels of autonomy, particularly Level 5 (60%, compared to 39% for the remainder of the surveyed group).

Google and Tesla have made headlines recently both for the technology and for a few accidents. These incidents, though rare, have affected consumer perceptions of the technology, according to ReportLinker, which surveyed 605 online respondents representative of the U.S. population for another report on self-driving vehicles. Only respondents with a driver’s license or driver’s permit were qualified to answer the survey. Interviews were conducted on Sept. 15.

ReportLinker came up with a similar disconnect between consumers being interested in self-driving vehicles, but not entirely comfortable with subjecting themselves to them.

Safety is a significant concerns with a majority — 63% — of consumers say they won’t feel safe in a fully-automated vehicle. When asked what they believed was the main drawback to automated vehicles, 36% cited road safety and 10% named vehicle safety. Together, this represents nearly half of all respondents. By comparison, just 18% cited the cost of acquiring the vehicle as a drawback.

Better marketing of the benefits of self-driving vehicles — lower costs, less road congestion, increased mobility — is one option. But to reshape consumer perceptions, a more effective approach may be to continue to gradually introduce automated features into existing car models. After all, we are creatures of habit, even when it comes to driving down the street.

1 comment about "Despite Intrigue With Self-Driving Vehicles, Consumers Still Crave Control".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 28, 2016 at 11:22 a.m.

    I wonder why so many of these studies leave out the older segment of the population? As for the results, of course any sane person realizes what a debacle driverless cars would be.

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