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11 October 2016

CTA claims victory for autonomous vehicle consumer opinions

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has released a report that paints a rosy picture for self-driving car opinion-ratings among consumers. Its headline figure is that nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers want to swap their cars for an autonomous one, with around three-quarters of consumers excited about the potential benefits that self-driving cars can offer.

Cynics will point out that many consumers with older cars would happily swap them for a new model, regardless of self-driving features or not, but it is a good sign for the automotive industry – which has been watching the fallout from the recent Tesla Autopilot fatality/ies with baited breath.

RIoT is of the opinion that US death occurred due to human error, and that the driver was incorrectly using a beta feature and not paying enough attention to road conditions. On the other hand, Tesla’s Autopilot branding is definitely misleading, given the absolutist connotations of the feature’s name – a marketing message that Tesla has adjusted in the wake of the crash.

But the death and the surrounding headlines don’t seem to have put much of a damper on consumer enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles. The biggest advocates also appear to be those drivers that have already used advanced driver-assistance technology in their cars, with 93% of those who had used them saying they appreciated them, and over 50% of those who had never used them saying they wanted to upgrade to vehicles with the tech – which include self-park, adaptive cruise control, and collision avoidance.

We don’t have to wait for the benefits of self-driving cars to arrive – driver-assist technology is already saving lives, avoiding accidents and paving the way for completely driverless innovations still to come,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA. “We should promote these technologies that help drowsy or inattentive drivers stay focused, or provide specific responses such as automatic braking and lane-drift avoidance – all of which are now widely available in newer model vehicles.”

The study found that around 70% of consumers had a strong interest in testing a self-driving car themselves, which the CTA notes is a much higher level of interest than has been found in other consumer studies – which included a University of Michigan study that said two-thirds of consumers were concerned about riding in fully autonomous vehicles, and the Kelley Blue Book study that said 51% of consumers wanted to retain full control of a car even if self-driving cars made roads safer.

So if the study is accurate, this looks like the prevailing consumer opinion has shifted – a promising sign for an industry that has been given a large stamp of approval in the US, following the recent NHTSA guidelines. Recent DoT projects in Ohio, focused on DSRC, and Iowa, in partnership with Here and focused on asset tracking, are evidence of the government support for increasingly autonomous vehicles and the associated infrastructure.

In our pragmatic view, the technology is ready, and is going to drastically improve in the next couple of years. What isn’t ready is the legal framework for dealing with the fallout of accidents involving autonomous vehicles, or how insurers will address the issue of liability.

Google’s fleet has an outstanding safety record, and given that most of the trips that autonomous vehicles seem positioned to make will be low-speed urban commutes, the risk stemming from the physics of these accidents should equate to a low cost on human life. Similarly, if trucks become more autonomous, the most dangerous vehicles on the road (in terms of potential energy) could get dramatically safer, especially when it comes to fatigued drivers causing accidents.

So if consumers are coming round to the idea of the reward rather than the risk of self-driving cars, it seems that the automotive industry can reap the benefits of improved consumer sentiment – even if there’s considerable headaches involved in working out the new models required to sell vehicles as a service in this new market reality.

Clearly, drivers are getting more and more excited about everything that driverless cars will offer us – 90% fewer US traffic accidents, 40% lower insurance costs, the end of drunk driving accidents, and newfound freedom for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Shapiro. “The broad adoption of self-driving vehicles will save tens of thousands of lives each year in the US alone.”