Autonomous autos are advancing so rapidly that companies like Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo are beginning to offer robot rides to everyday consumers. But it turns out the traveling public may not be ready. A recent survey by the American Automobile Association found that more than three-quarters of Americans are afraid to ride in a self-driving car. And it’s not just Baby Boomers growing increasingly fearful of giving up the wheel to a computer, a J.D. Power study shows — it’s almost every generation.
One of the greatest deterrents to progress in this field is consumer acceptance,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told Bloomberg News at a department-sponsored conference in Detroit. “If there’s public concern about safety, security and privacy, we will be limited in our ability to help advance this technology.”
Most commuters don’t have access to a self-driving car, so Chao has called on Silicon Valley to step up and explain how they work. She and other regulators advocate for autonomy as a solution for curbing the hundreds of horrific collisions that happen every day in regular automobiles. Among those that end up being fatal, 94 percent are caused by human error, according to U.S. authorities.
Dangerous as it may be to operate cars themselves, many drivers are anxious about autonomous technology because they associate it with the fragility of electronic devices. Laptops crash and calls drop with nagging regularity. The consequence of a computerized car crash is much greater.