Skepticism and Mistrust of AVs Rooted in Lack of Knowledge

A new survey sponsored by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education finds Americans continue to be wary of fully autonomous vehicles, but that education and firsthand experience with automated driving technology can lead to greater trust.

The skepticism and mistrust found in the PAVE poll appear to be rooted in a lack of knowledge about and exposure to AVs, rather than specific incidents like the 2018 crash of an Uber autonomous test vehicle in Tempe, AZ. Not only do the majority of Americans say that more education and experience with AVs would improve their trust in the technology, but personal experience with advanced safety features available for sale today is strongly correlated with higher levels of familiarity and confidence with all levels of automated driving technology.

“The results of this survey confirm that autonomous vehicles face major perception challenges, and that education and outreach are the keys to improving trust,” said Tara Andringa, Executive Director of PAVE. “These insights provide both motivation and direction to our effort to confront this educational challenge.”

In addition to a national survey of 1,200 American adults, the PAVE poll includes a first-of-its-kind survey of 200 Americans with mobility issues that affect their daily lives – a community that could benefit from increased mobility through highly automated vehicles. The poll found this community is somewhat more positively disposed toward key AV concepts and somewhat more knowledgeable about AVs than the general public – and their optimism about the future of AVs is similar to that of the general public.

“These findings demonstrate that blind Americans and others with disabilities are enthusiastic about the potential of automated vehicles to enhance our mobility and independence,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We look forward to assisting in the planned public education efforts and continued research that will be guided by this recent polling data.”

Perceptions and Attitudes

The poll shows that Americans are skeptical of current AV technology, but they are slightly more optimistic about the availability of safe AV technology in the future:

Nearly three in four Americans say AV technology is “not ready for primetime.”
48% of Americans say they “would never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously.”
58% think safe AVs will be available in ten years, and 20% believe they will never be safe.
Only 34% of Americans think “the advantages of AVs outweigh any potential disadvantages.”
Only 18% of Americans agree with the statement “if there was a website to get on a waiting list for the first AV, I’d put my name down.”

Americans indicated that additional knowledge of the technology and increased exposure to the technology would increase their trust in AVs:

60% said they would trust AVs more if they better understood how the technology worked, compared to 23% who did not.
58% said they would have greater trust in AVs if they could experience a ride in one, compared to 24% who did not.

These attitudes do not seem to be solely tied to publicity of high-profile incidents involving automated driving, such as the 2018 Uber crash in Tempe, AZ, or crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot feature.

PAVE will host a virtual panel to discuss the survey and its findings on Wednesday, May 20, at 2 pm ET/11 am PT. Click here to register to join the discussion with PAVE members from the National Safety Council, United Spinal, and Voyage.

PAVE is a diverse coalition that includes industry and nonprofit partners. The coalition’s mission is to improve public understanding of advanced vehicle technologies in order to maximize the potential benefits in safety, mobility and sustainability.