Danger, Will Robinson: Drivers Don't Know What They Don't Know

Forget fully autonomous technology. The majority of drivers don’t even know how or why to operate adaptive cruise or lane-keeping technology.

It goes beyond being technophobic. Some don’t see the safety or fatigue reduction factors that should prompt them to take advantage of the features. 

While the automotive industry continues to move toward fully automated, self-driving vehicles, the pace is not being matched by educational efforts that will help bring buyers into the modern mobility movement, according to J.D. Power.

It’s no big surprise that consumers possess inaccurate knowledge of fully automated self-driving vehicles, according to the J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index Study.

Survey respondents were asked to select one of seven possible descriptions to define fully automated self-driving vehicles. Based on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ definition of Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving, two descriptions correctly defined a fully automated self-driving vehicle, which only 37% of respondents selected. 

More than half (55%) of respondents selected descriptions that are aligned with driver assist technology, which describe lower levels of automation currently available in many product offerings. 

The ability to accurately define a fully automated, self-driving vehicle is even lower (32%) among those with higher self-reported levels of automated vehicle (AV) knowledge. Survey findings show those who self-report knowing nothing at all about AVs are actually more accurate (37%) in defining fully automated self-driving vehicles. 

“This is a ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ moment for the fully automated self-driving vehicle industry,” said Lisa Boor, senior manager of global automotive at J.D. Power in a release. “There is a significant gap between actual and perceived AV knowledge.  Right now, consumers don’t know what they don’t know.”

Clear, consistent messaging from automakers and other stakeholders is needed to improve the accuracy of consumer AV knowledge, she says.

"The industry needs to be the catalyst for educating the public before running into such speed bumps,” Boor says. “AV education must expand beyond current, traditional learning methods.” 

One automaker making educational strides is Cadillac, which has launched efforts to explain its Super Cruise driver assistance technology.  The automaker recently enlisted a slew of celebrities to demonstrate in a series of fun and informative spots. 

Safety is paramount when building any self-driving experience, said Bryan Reimer, Ph.D., research scientist in the MIT AgeLab and associate director of The New England University Transportation Center at MIT. 

“Organizations working as technology pioneers have the responsibility to create realistic and accurate consumer expectations for what their products can and cannot do,” Reimer says.

I can’t help but think of Tesla, which has been lax in this regard, resulting in drivers taking naps, having sex, or otherwise engaging in risky behavior behind the wheel.

“Small setbacks in public trust triggered by misuse of systems -- or a failure of a system to perform based upon misconceived consumer expectations -- may hamper deployments over the coming decades, depriving consumers of the convenience and safety benefits the technology can potentially offer,” Reimer says. “Consumer overconfidence and lack of knowledge to date can lead to risk-taking that will cause the AV industry to hit a lot of potholes.” 

Elon Musk, are you listening? 

The J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index Study is based on responses from 4,000 vehicle owners in the United States age 18 and older who completed a 15-minute online survey. The study results were balanced to basic census demographics to be nationally representative. The study was fielded in June-July 2021. 

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