Change is hard, and, in some cases, it can be downright scary. Technology is driving a lot of change in the 21st century, and it’s possible that the biggest, most “intimidating” changes are yet to come. For instance, robotics, AI (artificial intelligence), and automation are huge, important technology trends that are taking the world by storm. Artificially intelligent systems and machines are automating tasks that used to be reserved for humans, and this will affect the future of work in both expected and unforeseen ways.
Similarly, AVs (autonomous vehicles) will create incredible changes in society—some predictable and some unpredictable—and for some people, a sense of fear accompanies these changes. The market is predicted to grow, whether society is ready for AVs or not. Research firm Technavio predicts the global market for autonomous vehicles will grow by nearly 6 million units between 2018 and 2022. In terms of market size, Allied Market Research suggests global AV market value will reach $54 billion this year and then explode to $556 billion by 2026.
And yet, the most recent Automated Vehicle Study by AAA suggests consumers may not be ready for self-driving vehicles. AAA found 71% of respondents are “afraid” to ride in fully self-driving vehicles. This percentage is higher than it was in AAA’s prior survey (71% versus 63%). Presumably, incidents like the one last March in which an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., are to blame.
Uber’s AVs are back on certain roads now, but the accident had many consumers questioning whether self-driving technology is truly safer, especially when human safety drivers can still be distracted, as was the case with Uber’s safety driver last March. The big picture, however, suggests automated vehicles will bring a multitude of societal benefits, including improved road safety. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.), for instance, says 94% of serious car crashes are a result of human error behind the wheel, including driver distraction. NHTSA also lists economic benefits, efficiency and convenience, and increased mobility for people with disabilities as reasons for the U.S. and other nations to pursue AVs.
If so many consumers aren’t on board, though, how can this future become reality? AAA suggests the key to helping consumers feel more comfortable with self-driving vehicles will be “bridging the gap between the perception of automated vehicle technology and the reality of how it actually works in today’s cars.” Certainly, public education about the benefits AVs will offer society, as well as education about the technology itself, will help sway public opinion, as will more opportunities for people to interact with the technology firsthand. In AAA’s survey, those who have regular interaction with driver-assistance technologies like lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and self-parking were 68% more likely to say they trust these features.
The research suggests Americans are more receptive to the idea of automated vehicle technology in limited applications. For example, AAA says 53% of respondents are comfortable with low-speed, short distance forms of transportation, and 44% are comfortable with AVs serving as delivery vehicles. This, at least, is a good start. As more AV testing occurs and more use cases for automated vehicles become proven, more people will think first of the benefits and not the risks.
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