Poll Shows Public Opposes Self-Driving Vehicle Rush to Roads Warns Congress

Leading safety and consumer advocates unveiled a new CARAVAN Public Opinion Poll which revealed widespread concern over major segments of American society on important issues under consideration in federal legislation on driverless cars.

These issues include: mass exemptions from existing safety standards (63% oppose); disconnection of vehicle controls such as the steering wheel and brake and gas pedals when the autonomous vehicle (AV) is being operated by a computer (75% oppose); minimum safety standards for new features related to the operation of AVs (73% support); cybersecurity standards (81% support); standards governing the ability of a human driver to safely take back control from the AV (84% support); minimum performance requirements for computers that operate AVs (80% support); and, the need for online consumer information about AV capabilities (87% support).

Sixty-four percent (64%) of respondents express concern about sharing the road with driverless cars
This level of apprehension was approximately the same across the U.S., regardless of
the region of residence  and across political party affiliation. Three out of every five respondents state they are not comfortable with Congress increasing the number of driverless cars which

do not meet existing federal vehicle safety standards and would be available for public sale. This concern was shared equally across political affiliation, region of residence, level of
education, and household income.
Three out of four respondents are not comfortable with allowing manufacturers to disconnect vehicle equipment such as the steering wheel and brake pedal without prior approval from DOT

At Detroit Auto Show industry and public focus on AVs has kicked into high gear. Yet, these new poll numbers demonstrate that the American public wants basic safeguards before this new technology enters the marketplace.

At panel at NAIAS  Joan Claybrook , consumer co-chair of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said “I think the legislation is very inadequate. This ought to be a gradual implementation, not this rush-to-judgment hype about these vehicles.”

The former head of NHTSA noted that the  leniency of current bills and guidelines sacrifices safety for innovation and ignores the industry’s history of safety defects.

These poll numbers should be a bright, flashing hazard light to Members of Congress considering legislation that will set policy on driverless cars for years to come. On September 6, 2017, the House passed the SELF DRIVE Act (Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, H.R. 3388). The Senate AV START Act (American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act, S. 1885) was passed out of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on October 4, 2017 and is awaiting floor action. As this new poll shows, Americans have serious safety concerns about AVs and want the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to exercise its authority in overseeing them.

Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, stated, “We sought to determine what the American public thinks about the direction Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking right now as they determine roles and responsibilities of the federal government and auto manufacturers for the foreseeable future. These poll results should be an urgent wake-up call to change course. One of the most important findings of this poll is that nearly two-thirds of respondents are concerned about sharing the road with driverless cars. Today, we urge our nation’s leaders to listen carefully to the concerns of the American people and to take an immediate course correction to address significant safety shortcomings and serious public concerns revealed in the poll.”

“I think one of the bigger questions facing us is why Congress is rushing through driverless car legislation right now when there’s time to get it right,” said Jackie Gillan, President Emeritus of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “The poll clearly shows that the public does not endorse the positions taken by the industry and reflected in the House and Senate bills. In fact, the overwhelming public response to these proposals, as expressed in the poll, is essentially ‘No Thank You.’ These poll results combined with the reality that driverless cars are still many, many years away call for a balanced approach to protect public safety and promote consumer confidence in the technology. The House and Senate bills lack this balance and that needs to change.”

Joan Claybrook, former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,  “We are at the beginning of a brave new world regarding the advent of innovative technologies that will lead to some form of autonomous vehicles. Even today, our cars essentially are computers on wheels. It is critical that the U.S. Department of Transportation implement its statutory mandate to issue vehicle safety standards for autonomous cars. The last thing the public wants is to have DOT standing on the sidelines, allowing auto and tech companies to build and sell cars equipped with new technologies that do not meet minimum government requirements. Standards are necessary to guarantee their performance in all driving situations and on all road conditions.”

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to be a technological vaccine that could dramatically reduce the tragic toll that autos take on our society,” said Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs for the Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book. “However, like any successful vaccine, they need to be thoroughly tested to specific standards, before they are made available to the public.”

Shaun Kildare, Director of Research for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, “Today’s report illustrates that there is consumer concern about the introduction of driverless cars. More importantly, consumers want driverless cars to be subject to the same types of minimum safety standards which have saved so many lives over the past several decades.”

This nationwide telephone CARAVAN survey of 1,005 adults living in the U.S. was conducted by ORC International from December 7-10, 2017. Read full report.