A new national study commissioned by Kelley Blue Book has found that despite all of the efforts being made today towards advancing self-driving technology, American motorists are not exactly racing to embrace it. According to the 2016 Kelley Blue Book Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study, the majority of Americans still believe their conventional cars are significantly safer that those with higher levels of autonomy. It also discovered that 62 percent of today’s drivers don’t believe they’ll live long enough to see a world where all vehicles are fully autonomous. However, it did find 67 percent of Gen Z pre-drivers (ages 12-15) do expect to be around to see the transition happen and that 79 percent of this tech-savvy group felt self-driving cars would provide the greatest level of overall safety.

Personal control versus collective safety 

According to the study, current U.S. drivers are conflicted on the question of personal control versus collective safety for all as it pertains to self-driving vehicles, with 51 percent favoring the former and 49 percent prioritizing the latter. However, 64 percent of respondents stated they prefer to be in full control of a vehicle at all times while 80 percent want the option to take command whenever they so choose. That said, 63 percent of those surveyed also believed that our roads would be safer if autonomous vehicles were standard-issue. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers currently recognizes six levels of vehicle autonomy, ranging from zero (none) to five (full, with no human input). The KBB study found that consumer interest is currently greatest for Level 4 technology --which offers full autonomy with the possibility for human input -- and that if all levels of autonomy were available by 2020, 59 percent of respondents said they’d be likely to buy a vehicle equipped with Level 3 or higher tech. Not surprisingly, firsthand experience also was found to be a key factor in fostering interest and acceptance among consumers for all forms of autonomous operation.



“The industry is talking a lot about self-driving vehicles these days, with multiple automakers and ride share companies throwing their hats in the competition to build and release the first fully autonomous vehicle to consumers,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Much is still unknown about fully autonomous vehicles, including how they would react in emergency situations, but the lower-level options are gaining steam, with many Americans interested in purchasing vehicles with Level 2 semi-autonomous features. Available today in certain vehicles, these Level 2 features are automated, but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle. For these consumers, the biggest purchase barrier is market supply.” 

Beyond the current limited availability, Brauer also underscores the need for manufacturers to more effectively promote this nascent technology to potential buyers by getting them behind the wheel, whether that encounter takes the form of an extended test drive, short-term lease or daily rental. His observation reflects one more study finding that a critical consumer concern involves being able to try these systems without fully committing. “Automakers will need to address hesitant drivers in order to be successful.”

The 2016 Kelley Blue Book Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study was conducted by market research firm Vital Findings. Survey respondents included 2,264 individuals across the county ranging in age from 12-64.


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