Consumers aren't fully confident in self-driving cars, survey finds

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Researchers found that consumers would prefer to be the one operating the vehicle

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington surveyed consumers on their attitudes regarding self-driving cars. 

Though rideshare companies continue to test these vehicles, the survey revealed that consumers aren’t yet ready to let their cars do the driving, with many being more comfortable having control in the driver’s seat. 

“We believe that our respondents are telling us that if they were riding in an automated vehicle today, they would be sufficiently stressed out by the experience that it would be worse than driving themselves,” said researcher Don MacKenzie. “This is a reminder that automated vehicles will need to offer benefits to consumers before people will adopt them.” 

Understanding consumers’ mindsets

The researchers surveyed over 500 people across the U.S. to gauge how they felt about autonomous vehicles. 

The surveys were simple: participants had to choose whether they’d want to be behind the wheel or utilize a rideshare app for a 15-mile commute. However, half of the participants were told that the rideshare car would be an autonomous vehicle. 

After collecting the responses, the researchers turned participants’ answers into monetary values. According to MacKenzie, “the idea here is that ‘time is money,’ so the overall cost of driving includes both the direct financial costs and the monetary equivalent of time spent traveling.” 

Though rideshares typically won out over participants driving themselves, when the participants knew that an autonomous vehicle would be picking them up, they weren’t as thrilled with the idea. 

Based on the results, the researchers determined that participants valued rideshare rides at around $21 an hour. However, when participants were reminded that they can multitask in the rideshare car, that price dropped to $13 an hour, which showed that travelers thought the mode of transportation was more cost-effective. But despite that drop, when the participants were told about the driverless cars, that price shot up to $28 an hour; values for participants who drove their own cars came in at $25 an hour. 

The researchers hypothesize that these findings come from the variables surrounding autonomous vehicles, as many consumers are unsure of how these vehicles will operate. 

“The average person in our sample would find riding in a driverless car to be more burdensome than driving themselves,” said MacKenzie. “This highlights the risk of making forecasts based on how people say they would respond to driverless cars today.” 

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