Consumers are reluctant to trust autonomous vehicles
With the recent increase in self-driving car crashes, players in the industry may have to dial back production.
Back in March, a Tesla Model X in autopilot mode crashed into a median in Mountain View, California, which killed the driver. After this announcement, Tesla suspended its research and development of self-driving technology.
On Wednesday, a self-driving Uber testing in Tempe, Arizona fatally crashed into a pedestrian. In response to this accident, Uber announced that it will halt its self-driving ventures in Arizona indefinitely.
The incident marked the first time a self-driving car killed someone not in the vehicle – a monumental step back for the technology.
Uber announced that it will continue to test the technology in Pittsburgh, which is home to other self-driving car players like Google’s Waymo and Ford’s Argo AI. Pittsburgh is an attractive location because of its proximity to Carnegie Mellon University, which has one of the top-rated robotics research facilities in the nation.
In addition, Uber will continue testing in San Francisco, one of the most populated cities in the nation. Uber believes that if their self-driving cars can work in these two populated locations, they can work anywhere.
However, firms like Uber may have to do more than testing to appease the public’s concern about autonomous driving technology. Moreover, according to a AAA survey conducted in April, 73% of Americans are too scared to drive in a self-driving car. In 2017, this number was just 63%. Indeed, people are becoming more fearful about self-driving cars rather than growing more optimistic.
Although expert scientists believe that self-driving technology is just as safe as a human driver, with the potential of becoming even safer, people are reluctant to believe this.
Furthermore, according to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 37,000 people died on US roads in 2016, which was a 5% increase from 2015. The main causes of these fatalities were distracted driving, drowsiness, and drunk driving. Clearly, all of these problems could be mitigated with a self-driving technology, as these all stem from human error.
However, the problem for consumers is the lack of information about self-driving cars’ safety. The general public only hears about crashes from self-driving firms like Tesla and Uber, and they almost never hear about their successes.
Additionally, there is likely a psychological aspect about a self-driving car. Humans like to be in control of most situations, including vehicles. They believe that they can control the outcome of a potential accident if in that situation, even though often times that is not the case. Indeed, when a driver is texting, speeding, or drunk driving, this is solely the driver’s fault – something that would not happen in a self-driving car.
Some experts recommend that these companies work with the government to ensure that tests are done safely. However, many firms fear that the government will place tight regulations on self-driving vehicles, which slows growth and development. In the end, though, it might be the right strategy for car manufacturers; by working directly with the public sector, companies like Tesla and Uber can avoid potential disruptions of their testing.
However, at the end of the day, testing doesn’t matter if consumers will not buy or even utilize self-driving vehicles. Obviously, firms hope that the future is completely driverless, but the next biggest step to that future is assuring the public that these cars are safe.
As of now, consumers are not only unimpressed, but they actually fear autonomous cars. If Waymo, Tesla, and Uber can’t figure out a way to prove to the public that this technology is safer than human driving, then they may never get self-driving cars on the road.
Featured image via Flickr/Marc van der Chijs