Self-driving vehicles still scare American drivers, AAA finds

But the number of survey respondents frightened by driverless cars is dropping.

A new survey finds that Americans remain frightened by the prospect of riding in a self-driving car ... but not as frightened as they have been. Looked at another way, the annual survey from AAA finds that 20 million more American drivers said they would trust an autonomous vehicle than in 2017.

The third annual AAA survey found that 63 percent of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car. That's down from the 2017 survey, when 78 percent of respondents said they feared our robotic-vehicle overlords. Interestingly, 51 percent of drivers in the States say they want autonomous features in their automobiles – not full autonomy, but bits like self-steering and braking tech – which is down from 59 percent a year ago.

The news comes as federal investigators probe a crash that occurred Monday in California when a Tesla being driven in semi-autonomous mode plowed into a fire engine at 65 miles per hour. No injuries were reported. Major automakers, ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Silicon Valley startups are engaged in a race to develop autonomous vehicles; General Motors recently announced it's seeking U.S. government approval for a fully autonomous car with no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pad in 2019.

Companies like Waymo are already testing self-driving vehicles on streets in places like Texas, Arizona, California and Michigan, and that appears to be making drivers anxious: Just 13 percent of survey respondents said they would feel safer sharing the road with autonomous vehicles, while 46 percent said they'd feel less safe, 37 percent were indifferent, and 4 percent were uncertain.

Women were more likely than men to be afraid of riding in self-driving cars by a margin of 73 percent to 52 percent, while Millennials were the most trusting age group, with only 49 percent being wary of driverless cars, down from 73 percent last year. For Baby Boomers, the 68-percent majority who said they feared automated vehicles was down from 85 percent.

At the same time, the survey found that Americans think pretty highly of their own skills behind the wheel. Nearly three-quarters of respondents consider themselves better-than-average drivers, led by 8 in 10 men who were confident in their driving skills, and despite statistics that suggest more than 90 percent of all automobile crashes are the result of human error.

"AAA found that American drivers are very confident in their driving abilities, which may explain some hesitation to give up full control to a self-driving vehicle," Greg Brannon, automotive engineering and industry relations director for AAA, said in a release. "Education, exposure and experience will likely help ease consumer fears as we steer toward a more automated future."

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