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Trust in Self-Driving Cars Has Plummeted in the Last 6 Months

Illustration for article titled Trust in Self-Driving Cars Has Plummeted in the Last 6 Months
Photo: File photo of an Uber self-driving car from March 2017 (Getty)

Americans are generally pretty optimistic when it comes to new technologies. But there’s one futuristic tech that Americans are getting more and more afraid of with each passing year: Driverless vehicles. A whopping 73 percent of Americans don’t trust autonomous vehicles, up from 63 percent in late 2017.

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The new study, conducted by AAA in early April, found that just 20 percent of Americans said that they’d trust riding in a driverless vehicle. The largest decline in trust came from Millennials, with 64 percent saying that they wouldn’t ride in one, compared to 49 percent in late 2017 who distrusted the technology.

But Baby Boomers were still the most fearful of driverless cars, with 71 percent saying that they wouldn’t ride in them. Gen X wasn’t far behind, with 68 percent saying that they wouldn’t feel safe in a driverless vehicle.

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“Despite their potential to make our roads safer in the long run, consumers have high expectations for safety,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, told Gizmodo in a statement. “Our results show that any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust, which is a critical component to the widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles.”

The study even shows that people aren’t just afraid to passengers in driverless vehicles, they’re also scared to see them on the road when they’re walking or riding a bicycle. A staggering 63 percent of Americans say that they’d feel less safe with autonomous vehicles on the road when they’re a pedestrian.

And those fears aren’t coming out of nowhere. Tesla has gotten heat for its autopilot mode, which has been blamed for numerous crashes. And Uber’s self-driving car struck and killed a 44-year-old woman in March. Despite the accident, Uber says that it’s going to get its autonomous cars back on the road within a matter of months.

“While autonomous vehicles are being tested, there’s always a chance that they will fail or encounter a situation that challenges even the most advanced system,” Megan Foster, AAA’s director of Federal Affairs, said in a statement.

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“To ease fears, there must be safeguards in place to protect vehicle occupants and the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians with whom they share the road.”

With more driverless vehicles on the road, there will almost certainly be more accidents. The question is what number of accidents is acceptable when it comes to easing the minds of Americans. So far, the only acceptable number appears to be zero.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

As someone who commutes into Boston every day, autonomous cars would have to run down 3 pedestrians every time out before I trusted them less than the average commuter in this city.