In the United States, 56 percent of responders said they viewed self-driving cars in a positive manner, though 27 percent had neutral feelings and 16 percent looked at the technology as a negative thing.
56 percent of respondents said they viewed self-driving cars in a positive manner.
There's also a slight gender gap toward embracing autonomous cars, as 59 percent of men had a positive view of them, while 54 percent of women did. Though the numbers are close, researchers found women consistently responded with less enthusiasm about the technology and registered more concerns over its safety.
Still, both genders are interested, and more than two-thirds of all survey-takers believe self-driving cars could lead to fewer and less severe crashes; 70 percent thought the technology could improve fuel economy. The study also found nearly half of Americans believe it would ease traffic congestion and make for shorter travel times.
Despite the potential benefits, motorists worry about legal liability, having their locations tracked, sharing the roads with other self-driving cars and the potential that weather conditions could interfere with the car's ability to operate itself.
Additionally, 73 percent of Americans were concerned self-driving cars might not perform as well as human drivers.
"It cuts both ways," researcher Brandon Schoettle said. "They're optimistic about the benefits, but concerned about using all of these [autonomous] things."
73 percent of Americans were concerned self-driving cars might not perform as well as human drivers..
That's underscored by the finding that 36 percent of responders would continue to watch the road while riding in a self-driving car, and 23 percent wouldn't even ride in one. The most-popular activity for motorists would be reading (11 percent) or texting/talking on the phone (10 percent).
More than half of responders also said they wouldn't pay more for an autonomous car, and only a quarter said they would be willing to pay at least $2,000 for the technology.
The study also looked at the views of motorists in the United Kingdom and Australia, and the findings were similar to Americans' response, though US drivers expressed greater skepticism about the technology.
Self-driving cars mirror other technologies, Schoettle said, as many early adopters and tech-savvy consumers have expressed interest in it, while the public at large remains more reserved.
"The initial response with most people is quite muted," he said. "There's a kind of curiosity that we saw when we talked about the benefits and the concerns."
The study comes as several states have approved testing of autonomous cars on public roads, with California being the latest to green-light it earlier this year. Google also has announced plans to build 100 prototypes of its self-driving car, with plans to begin a pilot program in the next few years.