Don't get rid of the steering wheel just yet, Google

Motorists Have Concerns About Self-Driving Cars, Says University of Michigan Survey

Self-driving cars might dominate the roadways of tomorrow, but American motorists aren't ready for them today. A survey conducted by University of Michigan researchers found drivers are concerned about riding autonomous vehicles and that they're not ready to relinquish control of driving tasks. Rather than subside as the technology advances, those fears have grown more entrenched over the past year.

Researchers found that 68.5 percent of respondents were either moderately or very concerned about riding in a completely self-driving car. That's a slight increase from 2014, when 66.8 percent of respondents conveyed the same worries. Given choices of fully self-driving cars, partial automation or no automation, the most frequent preference expressed was none.

Of the survey's 505 respondents, 43.8 percent said they preferred no self-driving in their vehicles, followed by 40.6 percent who preferred partial automation. Completely self-driving vehicles, at 15.6 percent, was the least-preferred choice. Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak, two researchers at the university's Transportation Research Institute, released the findings Wednesday, days before a 32-acre test facility for self-driving and connected vehicles opens on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, campus.

"These two findings suggest that much of the concern regarding completely self-driving vehicles relates to having to give up all control to the vehicle," Schoettle tells Autoblog. "This is something many drivers are still apprehensive about."

Industry leaders are pushing headlong down the path of autonomous driving, at least in part as a means of improving overall traffic safety. More than 90 percent of traffic accidents are caused by human mistakes, and experts see automation as one way they can drastically reduce the number of traffic fatalities on American roads. That motorists either don't yet grasp that vision – or resist it – means automakers must do a better job selling the promise and reliability of the technology.

And they may need to roll out automation in incremental steps. Nearly all respondents to the survey – 96.2 percent – said they want to have a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals available in cars that were completely autonomous.

That runs counter to the approach of Google, which is perhaps the most prolific tester of self-driving vehicles in the United States. The company's next-generation prototypes that recently hit the road have completely eliminated the driver – they don't have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals. "They don't need them," Google says in a summary of its program on its website. "Our software and sensors do all the work."

But there's one thing the sensors can't yet do – change public perceptions.

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