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A Google autonomous car parked near the curb

Driverless Cars? After Deadly Accidents, Most Americans Would Rather Take the Bus

July 25, 2018
Brookings survey finds people aren’t sold on the safety benefits of autonomous vehicle technology.

Recent fatalities involving self-driving vehicles appear to be making people nervous about the automotive technology.

When asked in a survey by researchers at the Brookings Institution how likely they are to ride in a self-driving car, only 21% of adult internet users said they are inclined to do so, compared to 61% who are not.

The support for self-driving cars is down a bit from other surveys over the past year. For example, Northeastern University/Gallup undertook a mail survey of 3,297 U.S. adults from September 15 to October 10, 2017, and found 25% were likely to ride in a self-driving car and 54% were unlikely. In January 2018, Reuters/Ipsos completed a survey of 2,592 adults, finding 27% were comfortable riding in a self-driving car and two-thirds were uncomfortable.

In addition, our numbers are significantly less positive than what a May 2017 Pew Research Center poll revealed. It showed stronger enthusiasm for driverless cars, with 44% saying they would ride in one if given a chance, while 56% would not (but their analysis eliminated the “don’t know” or “no answer” response).

The survey was an online U.S. national poll undertaken with 2,066 adult internet users from July 8 to 10, 2018. Responses were weighted using gender, age, and region to match the demographics of the national internet population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

If an insurance company offered a 10% insurance rate discount to ride in a self-driving car due to its increased safety, 29% say they are likely to do so, 49% are not, and 22% do not know or give no answer. This eight percentage point increase over the 21 percent number with no discount suggests ridership can be increased through insurance incentives.

There are differences by gender and age. Men (33%) are more likely than women (25%) to say they would ride in a self-driving car if given an insurance discount. Young people aged 18 to 34 (35%) are the most likely to do so compared to those aged 55 and over (21%).

A Drop in Favorability

We asked how favorable people were to self-driving cars, and 20% say they are favorable, while 59% are unfavorable.

These levels were less favorable than what a Morning Consult survey found between March 29 and April 1, 2018. In that poll, researchers discovered 32% were favorable to self-driving cars and 57% were unfavorable.

Benefits to Senior Citizens and the Visually Impaired
Higher percentages of individuals see the enhanced mobility benefits of self-driving cars for senior citizens and the visually impaired. When asked how helpful these vehicles would be for these groups, 42% thought they would be helpful to senior citizens and 40% said they would be helpful to the visually impaired.

Views about Safety
We wanted to see how the provision of positive factual information about U.S. highway safety would affect people’s views. For example, around 40,000 Americans die in highway accidents each year, and it is estimated that 90% of highway fatalities involve human error, distraction, or intoxication.

After telling people about the number of Americans dying in highway accidents each year, we asked if they thought self-driving cars will reduce the number of accidents. Twenty-three percent said yes, while 55% indicated no.

We also told them that 90% of accidents involve human error, but the response was similar. Twenty-seven percent said they thought self-driving cars would be helpful in reducing accidents, while 51% did not.

The low positive response demonstrates that even the provision of favorable information regarding the safety benefits of self-driving cars over those of human-operated ones does not move many people in a more positive direction.

Role of Government
Fifty-four percent believe the government very much should regulate self-driving cars, 26% think it should somewhat regulate these vehicles, 9% feel the government should not regulate  very much, and 11% say they don’t know or give no answer.

In addition, 47% believe the national government should not be supportive in allowing self-driving cars on highways, 27% believe it should be supportive, and 26% do not know or give no answer.

This online survey polled 2,066 adult internet users in the United States from July 8 to 10, 2018 through the Google Surveys platform. Responses were weighted using gender, age, and region to match the demographics of the national internet population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Darrell M. West is vice president of Governance Studies and director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation

A version of this article originally appeared on the Brookings blog TechTank.

About the Author

Darrell M. West

Darrell M. West is vice president and director of Governance Studies and holds the Douglas Dillon Chair. He is founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings and Editor-in-Chief of TechTank. His current research focuses on educational technology, health information technology, and mobile technology. Prior to coming to Brookings, West was the John Hazen White Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University.

West is the author or co-author of 23 books including The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation (Brookings Institution Press, 2018).

He is the winner of the American Political Science Association’s Don K. Price award for best book on technology (for Digital Government) and the American Political Science Association’s Doris Graber award for best book on political communications (for Cross Talk). He has published more than three dozen scholarly articles in a wide range of academic journals. In 2014, he was honored by Public Administration Review for having written one of the 75 most influential articles since 1940. This was for his article “E-Government and the Transformation of Service Delivery and Citizen Attitudes.”

He has delivered many lectures in more than a dozen different countries around the world, including Malaysia, Singapore, Norway, China, Japan, Russia, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Bahrain, and the United States. He has been quoted in leading newspapers, radio stations, and national television networks around the world.

The Center that he directs at Brookings examines a wide range of topics related to technology innovation including governance, democracy, and public sector innovation; health information technology; virtual education, and green technology. Its mission is to identify key developments in technology innovation, undertake cutting-edge research, disseminate best practices broadly, inform policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels about actions needed to improve innovation, and enhance the public’s and media’s understanding of technology innovation.

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