Will Autonomous Cars Be Accepted in the Next Five Years?

Source: Delphi
Source: Delphi

Thanks to companies like Google testing self-driving cars on public roads and promising that the technology is closer to being ready for the public than ever, autonomous vehicles get a lot of attention from the media. On the one hand, it’s a technology that promises to completely change human transportation, and on the other, it’s the kind of technology that until recently sounded like science fiction.

Just because autonomous driving technology has reached a point where we know it’s only a matter of time before the roads are filled with self-driving cars, that doesn’t mean we know how long it will be until it actually happens. Tesla is already beta-testing its Autopilot feature with a small group of Model S owners, but thanks to the regulatory hurdle, it could be 25 or 30 years before self-driving cars become commonplace.

Advancements in technology continue regardless of public opinion, but at least for now, it looks like people aren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of an autonomous car.

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute recently conducted a survey of more than 500 licensed drivers, and as The Car Connection reports, 43.8% of people surveyed said they didn’t want to see cars with any self-driving capabilities, while 40.6% said they’d only like to see cars with limited self-driving capabilities. With 15.6% of people saying they wanted cars to be entirely autonomous, that means almost 85% of drivers are against the idea, and more than half of them don’t want cars with any self-driving abilities at all.

Unsurprisingly, older drivers were the least interested in autonomous cars, but young people were still skeptical as well. Interestingly enough, women were less interested in self-driving cars than men were. Overall, though, 96.2% of people surveyed said they wanted to still have access to driving controls.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but the results definitely show a pronounced bias against the idea of cars driving themselves.

That may all change quickly, though, and according to one report, autonomous driving technology could reach mainstream acceptance in as little as five years.

Tesla Model S 70D
Source: Tesla

What the IT analysts at Gartner have seen over the years is that the buzz over new technologies follows what it calls a “hype cycle.” When a new technology is showcased, the possible benefits get people excited, and that excitement continues to grow until it reaches a point called the “peak of inflated expectations.” After that point, though, people become disappointed that the reality of what the technology offers can’t meet their inflated expectations, and they grow less interested in it. With time, though, their expectations realign with reality, and the technology moves into mainstream use.

Wearable technology and the Internet of Things are two examples of technologies that are following a similar trend, and Gartner expects automated vehicles to do the same thing. Specifically, by 2020, the analysts expect that you will see more widespread acceptance of self-driving car technology, with it becoming mainstream no later than 2025.

That lines up with previous predictions that 3% of new cars will be self-driving in 2020.

Changing attitudes about autonomous cars should really come as no surprise, especially to drivers who have witnessed the increased amount of technology in cars over the past 15 years. A lot of what people need to see is that self-driving cars will work and that they’ll work well.

A lot of people who grew up without backup cameras still resist using them, but drivers who have experienced how useful and accurate a rear-view camera is can trust that it will work for them. As a result, you see those people relying on them more heavily. The same can also be said of every new driver’s aid from adaptive cruise control to automatic headlights.

As drivers get used to the idea that self-driving cars are actually safer and have lower accident rates than human-driven cars, most of them will embrace the technology. There will most likely be a number of irrational hold outs who refuse to trust their lives to technology, and enthusiasts will likely continue to enjoy driving their sports cars manually, but don’t be surprised if public opinion rapidly changes once self-driving cars get a chance to prove they really are both reliable and safe.

Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook and Tumblr
Follow Collin on Twitter @CS_CollinW