Is it possible that cultural influences have created a resistance to autonomous vehicles among older drivers that borders on fear? I think a case can be made for this, and it is one that automakers are going to have a tough time overcoming. But, the good news, to be somewhat macabre, is that those who are most afraid will be diminished in number by the time automated vehicles are actually on the roads in a meaningful volume. The skeptics and the fearful will literally die off.

"The good news, to be somewhat macabre, is that those who are afraid will be diminished in number by the time automated vehicles are actually on the roads."



Let's face it: Uber can put more autonomous Volvos on the streets of Arizona and Pittsburgh; Ford can roll out its "high volume" ride-hailing cars in some yet unknown locale. Heck, even if we throw in every automaker who has been overheard muttering the word "autonomy," the likelihood that there are going to be as many autonomous vehicles on the road in 2025 as there are F-Series trucks built in a week is, as the Magic-8-Ball would put it, "Outlook not so good."

Last year J.D. Power's U.S. Tech Choice Study showed only 41 percent of Generation X, 23 percent of Baby Boomers, and 18 percent of Pre-Boomers trust self-driving technology. And Boomers (39 percent) and Pre-Boomers (40 percent) amp up their animus, saying they "definitely would not" trust the tech.

Then last fall, two researchers at the University of Michigan, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, did a study titled "Would Self-Driving Vehicles Increase Occupant Productivity?" While this might seem like a bizarre area of research, remember, one rationale for the development of autonomous driving technologies is that they will allow people to work during a period when they'd otherwise be frittering away their time driving.

This study finds that the whole traditional work-ethic theory isn't going to work out because 23 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't drive in a self-driving vehicle, period. And another 36 percent said they'd be so unsettled by the experience that they'd spend their time watching the road. Plus, eight percent said they'd probably get motion sick. Will car sickness bags need to come standard or as part of an autonomous option package? That's an unpleasant thought.

The 2017 Autotrader Car Tech Impact Study says those who are positively disposed to autonomous vehicles, 36 percent, are canceled out by the same number who have negative feelings. Millennials are 58-percent positively oriented, however, which is better than the entire cohort surveyed, but they are still not ready to line up outside a dealership like for the release of a new iPhone.

What's interesting to consider in the context of all of this is that probably close to zero percent of them have ever been in an automated vehicle. So what's behind this fear or moderate-to-severe trepidation, especially among those who have AARP memberships?

"What's interesting to consider in the context of all of this is that probably close to zero percent of them have ever been in an automated vehicle."


Perhaps it goes back to 1983, the year Stephen King published one of his brick-sized books, Christine, of which more than 250,000 copies have been sold. Christine, the character, is a 1958 Plymouth Fury. It is somewhat convoluted to go from a car that needed serious restoration to one that seems to share some sort of mechanical DNA with a Terminator T-1000, but simply know that the car is animated, which makes it, or her, automated. And deadly. Run-overs, impalements – you get the picture.

And also in 1983, a man who is to scary movies what King is to scary books, John Carpenter, made a film version of Christine, which tens of thousands of additional people saw. Imagine just sitting in a car and having the seat adjuster crush you to death.

While it might seem that drawing a line from Christine of the early '80s to a fear of autonomous driving in the present is nothing more than a literary trick or convenience, consider this. Let's say the book and the movie (especially the movie) were read/seen in 1983 by the most likely cohort for scary books and movies: 18 year-olds. The 18 year-olds of 1983 are now 52 years old, at the trailing edge of the Boomer generation, a generation that is clearly ill-disposed toward automated driving. And maybe, just maybe, Lindsay Lohan deserves some credit for her role in Herbie Fully Loaded (2005), as those statistics indicate that younger people are more accepting of autonomous technology.

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