Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

The self-driving cars are coming. Make no mistake about that. The powers-that-be may not drag us Jalops kicking and screaming from our manual-tranny E30 beaters, but there are a lot of other buyers interested in their potential benefits. So how do people really feel about self-driving cars?

According to a new study from Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak of University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, Americans are actually pretty positive about the technology behind self-driving cars, but they have "high levels of concern" about something going wrong.

And while the majority of respondents to the university's study "expre ssed a desire to have this technology in their vehicle," they also said they're unwilling to pay extra for it.

Go figure.

Furthermore, the study indicates that as of right now, people really aren't that interested in cars that are completely capable of driving themselves.

The study polled about 1,500 people in the U.S., the UK and Australia to try and gauge their comfort level with cars with various levels of autonomous or self-driving technology. Those included cars with no such technology at all, up to completely self-driving cars that control all aspects of the trip.

First, it found that a high rate of respondents — 66 percent for the three nations — had heard of autonomous vehicles. Not shocking, it's in the news quite a bit.

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

Next, they asked what their overall opinions were of such cars. And overwhelmingly, they were positive in each country. Fifty-six percent of U.S. respondents think they're just swell, thanks for asking!

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

Next they asked the survey-takers about what they perceive would be the benefits of self-driving cars. To make a long story short, respondents believe these cars will result in fewer crashes and better fuel economy, but they're skeptical they will mean less congestion and shorter travel time.

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

And then they asked survey-takers how concerned they would be with owning or riding in a vehicle with limited or completely self-driving tech, which is what they mean by "Level 3" and "Level 4." It turns out respondents are either mostly "moderately concerned" or "very concerned" about doing so, depending on how autonomous the car is. They're most concerned in the U.S. and least concerned in Australia. (A fearless people, those Australians.)

Seems kind of strange, doesn't it? Earlier these same respondents were positive about self-driving cars, but now they have anxieties about them. Their concerns include data privacy, legal liability for owners, and vehicles that don't operate as well as human drivers in general.

Their fears are certainly legitimate, and ones that are shared by just about everyone from those ready to adopt self-driving cars to those pushing against the tide with all their might. But maybe you could look at it this way: I bet most of those respondents have positive feelings about cars overall, or at least, the use of cars as a means of transit. But they probably also have concerns about safety, cost, the environment and new technology too.

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

In this chart we see that probably drivers' biggest issues are "riding in a vehicle with no controls available." Say, remember that study by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that said most cars won't have brake pedals or steering wheels by 2035?

Perhaps drivers aren't so eager to embrace that future. That's definitely the sense I get looking at this last chart, which says that in every country polled, most drivers are "not at all interested" in owning fully autonomous cars at the moment.

We'll have to come back and see what they say as these technologies become more commonplace.

Americans Feel Good About Self-Driving Cars But Don't Want Them Yet

Check out the abstract of the study below and tell us what you think.

UMTRI 2014 21 Abstract English