Americans express growing fears about self-driving cars

The thought of driving on the freeway and passing a vehicle with no one sitting by it makes many drivers nervous.

Nearly 70% of people said they were afraid of self-driving vehicles, up from 55% last year, according to a new poll from the AAA survey. Such findings mean automakers need to do a better job of making self-driving technology safer and more reliable, the auto club said Thursday.

“We did not expect such a dramatic drop in confidence from previous years,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive research, in a statement. “Although given the number of high-profile accidents that have occurred due to over-reliance on current vehicle technologies, this is not entirely surprising.”

Most of these high-profile accidents involving self-driving vehicles come from Tesla. Last month, the Elon Musk-owned automaker around 363,000 vehicles recalled with self-driving technology, because the cars sometimes ignore posted speed limits or speed past intersections. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened investigations into 35 separate Tesla accidents since 2016, 19 of which have been fatal.

Two of those investigations focus on accidents in California and Ohio, where drivers said Tesla’s self-driving mode caused an accident. A Tesla was involved in a different accident than the car in January Fell 250 feet onto a rocky beachbut California Highway Patrol officers said they don’t believe the self-driving feature was activated prior to the accident.

4 rescued after Tesla fell off a cliff in Pacifica


The problems facing Tesla’s self-driving mode drew attention last month when a little-known consumer advocacy group drew attention aired a Super Bowl commercial to highlight automakers’ issues with autonomous driving.

Tesla, which has dissolved its press department, could not be reached for comment. The automaker announces on its website that its cars cannot drive themselves and that owners must be ready to intervene at any time.

Concerns about self-driving vehicles come as automakers race to build them. Waymo, the autonomous driving technology arm of Google parent Alphabet, has tested millions of vehicles on public roads, according to University of Michigan data, while Volvo, Nissan, Audi and other automakers are also working on autonomous vehicles.

Americans have an increasingly negative perception of self-driving cars, in part because of confusion over what the technology can and cannot do today, the AAA said. The auto industry uses terms such as Autopilot, Propilot or Pilot Assist when marketing the feature, but the terms are often misunderstood. The survey found that 1 in 10 respondents believed they could put a vehicle into self-driving mode and fall asleep, AAA said.

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