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Drivers Embrace Tech, But Unsure About Self-Driving Cars

At the fifth annual Redefining Mobility Summit in San Ramon, Calif., industry and public officials discussed the rapidly changing world of advanced and autonomous driving systems and what that means for drivers.

by / March 15, 2019
From left, Charlie Vogelheim, president of Western Automotive Journalists; Alan Jowett, vice president of Business Development at Ottopia; Ignacio Garcia, vice president for Autonomous Vehicle Strategy with AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah; Megan McKernan, manager for the Automotive Research Center with the Automobile Club of Southern California; and Brian Kebschull, president of Dynamic Research Inc. discuss the future for autonomous vehicle technologies. Government Technology/Skip Descant

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Drivers may love their backup cameras, but remain unsure about a car’s ability to drive itself. 

As car manufacturers pile on more driver-assistance features, such as cameras showing the area behind cars and sensors alerting to nearby objects, or “adaptive cruise control,” drivers are increasingly inclined to rely on them. However, driver comfort with these features may not translate to an easy embrace of autonomous vehicles, according to research from AAA. 

“While many consumers say they like these features in their vehicles, only 20 percent of U.S. drivers will trust a self-driving vehicle,” said Megan McKernan, manager of the Automotive Research Center for the Automobile Club of Southern California, speaking on March 8 during a panel at the fifth annual Redefining Mobility Summit in San Ramon, Calif. “So, it’s kind of a weird scenario where there’s an over-reliance on the systems, and yet, when you talk about fully autonomous vehicles, people are still a little bit scared.”  

The summit, organized by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, brought together industry and government officials to explore some of the innovation developments central to the transportation sector, with a strong focus on the future of autonomy in personal vehicles and freight movement. 

Surveys conducted by AAA suggest drivers welcome more AV features in their cars, but they want to remain in control. Some 55 percent of consumers say there is a desire for some autonomous features in their next vehicle, while 73 percent say they are afraid of self-driving vehicles, according to McKernan. 

Drivers have become so comfortable with “advanced driver assistance systems” (ADAS) features such as the rear-facing cameras, that 25 percent say they no longer look behind them when backing up, said McKernan, adding 29 percent of drivers admit to engaging in other activities while driving. 

“One of the things that AAA is concerned about is this over-confidence in the technology,” said McKernan. “We’re not at fully autonomous vehicles yet.” 

The findings show an increasing number of drivers are placing a lot of dependence on ADAS, suggesting behavior that may be becoming too reliant on technology and allowing attention to drift away from the task of driving, say panelists. 

“I think the possibility that people change their behavior and start to become over-reliant is definitely something that we think about and [need to] mitigate,” said Brian Kebschull, president of Dynamic Research Inc., based in Southern California, a company involved with testing AV technologies. 

“The problem is, consumers are not completely aware of their limitations yet,” McKernan added. “And some of them have an over-confidence in how some of the systems will work.” 

Where consumers seem to be comfortable with completely autonomous vehicles is when they function as small, low-speed shuttles. AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah, recently partnered with the city of Las Vegas, Keolis North America and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) to deploy and test a small AV shuttle in downtown Vegas in an effort to familiarize the public with the vehicle and technology. Similar projects has been launched in other cities in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and California at the Bishop Ranch office park, the site of the Redefining Mobility Summit.

As for the fully autonomous personal vehicles, those are still probably a number of years away, say sumitt attendees. “The future of automated driving is quite positive,” said Kebschull. “But I think the rollout may be slower than originally promised.” 

The technology “is not ready for prime time yet,” said McKernan.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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