Automation

Bay Area Poll Shows AV Trust Is Down

Despite the potential benefits of driverless cars in heavy traffic, a recent poll shows that confidence in the technology has fallen since last year.

by Rex Crum, The Mercury News / June 11, 2018
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(TNS) — It’s said that the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. If you live in the Bay Area, however, you know you can add the scourge of time-sucking, soul-crushing traffic to that list of life’s inevitabilities.

But, even as a new poll of the region’s drivers says they are willing to embrace just about any kind of technical assistance that would help them spend less time stuck behind the wheel, the promise of self-driving cars as a solution for the region’s traffic drama is being met with a growing degree of skepticism.

In a new survey released June 7, the Bay Area Council has found that the idea of self-driving cars is intriguing to the region’s drivers, but those who are willing to get into such a car, and give up their control over the vehicle, has fallen from a year ago. The Council said that a survey of 1,000 registered voters in the nine-county Bay Area showed 46 percent of respondents saying they would ride in a self-driving car, down from 52 percent in 2017.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Council also found that thirty-nine percent of those surveyed between March 20 and April 3 said they wouldn’t get into a car without a real, live driver.

Jim Wunderman, president and chief executive of the Bay Area Council, said there’s no real secret behind why more of the region’s drivers aren’t ecstatic about the thought of riding in a driverless vehicle.

“There’s been a lot more negativity in the last year, with a few high-profile accidents,” Wunderman said. “In my view, people become a little skittish when they hear these stories.”

Despite all the publicity and companies such as Waymo, Lyft and Uber throwing their weight behind the technology, self-driving cars are still in the early stages of development. And as such, accidents involving autonomous vehicles grab the public spotlight.

In one notable incident, a female pedestrian was struck and killed in March by one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles on a street in Tempe, Arizona. That car had a driving assistant in its front passenger seat at the time of the fatal collision.

In another accident that put self-driving car technology under the microscope, a Mountain View man died in March when his Tesla Model X vehicle crashed into a highway barrier. That car, while not a fully self-driving vehicle, was operating in its Autopilot mode, which includes some driverless features, such as the ability for the car to change lanes and park on its own.

Wunderman said that those who may be against self-driving cars need to look at “the big picture” regarding the vehicles, such as their potential to become safer driving options, and improve the commuting situation around the Bay Area.

“One of the great benefits of self-driving cars is safety,” Wunderman said. “They could be a lot safer because they will make much more efficient use of the road. These vehicles won’t be wasting time driving around, looking for parking spaces. They’ll take people to a destination and move on.”

But, some local analysts aren’t so sure about self-driving cars as the be-all, end-all for fixing the area’s traffic snarls.

“Self-driving cars may not be the keys to fixing the Bay Area’s traffic issue alone,” said Tim Bajarin, president of tech-research firm Creative Strategies. “We need more public transit systems, too, as well as new types of carpooling services that can be more flexible and work better with people’s ever changing mobile work styles.”

Survey respondents echoed some of those sentiments.

The survey found that only 22 percent of respondents think self-driving cars “will solve” the Bay Area’s traffic problems. Instead, those answering the survey said they believe investments in other areas may have a greater impact on improving traffic around the region.

The poll showed 69 percent of those questioned want traffic signals upgraded with technology to make those devices respond to real-time traffic situations, even if doing so would mean diverting money away from other transportation priorities.

Improvement in ferry service is also a top priority for local commuters, as 68 percent surveyed said they would ride ferries if they would take people closer to their destinations.

And the use of drone aircraft as a means of taking delivery vehicles off the road also received high marks from survey respondents, as 54 percent said they support the concept of drones dropping off their packages if it helps cut down on traffic and carbon emissions.

©2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.