Consumers Grow Concerned about Autonomous Vehicles

July 26, 2018

For the past few years, a number of technology companies have championed self-driving cars as the future of transportation. But recently the concept has received some bad press thanks to a string of accidents involving autonomous vehicles. For instance, last month a Waymo test car made headlines when it ended up in a five-car crash. Meanwhile, several Tesla vehicles in “driver-assist” mode have been involved in collisions, including one fatal incident. As a result, consumers are becoming more wary about the safety of self-driving cars.

One public opinion survey conducted by the Brookings Institute found that 61 percent of respondents “were not inclined to ride in self-driving cars.” In another study by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 69 percent of those surveyed said they had concerns about sharing the road with autonomous vehicles. These groups and others are calling on legislators to impose strict regulations on the technology so that self-driving cars don’t enter the market before they’re ready. “We do believe the autonomous vehicle has tremendous potential, but if untested vehicles are let loose into the marketplace, you are going to potentially turn consumers off,” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. “We are going to slowly turn consumers farther and farther away from the potential of good that the autonomous vehicle can do.”

These criticisms come on the heels of a proposed bill in Congress that could exempt some manufacturers from federal safety standards for self-driving vehicles. Along with worrying consumer advocacy groups, the potential legislation has concerned many community leaders as well. “Right now, the technology is in the testing phase, and there are far more concerns and questions than there are data-driving conclusions,” said J. Thomas Manger, the chief of police for Montgomery County, Maryland. “Instead of rushing this to a vote, let’s get it right the first time.” On the other hand, proponents of autonomous cars say the technology is more developed than their critics claim. What’s more, they also say that accidents involving self-driving cars aren’t as sensational as the media claims. For instance, the Waymo vehicle involved in a 5-car pileup wasn’t operating in autonomous mode at the time.

Questions:

  1. Do you have any concerns about riding in self-driving cars? Why or why not?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of placing strict regulations on self-driving cars?

Source: Ashley Halsey III, “As Driverless Car Crashes Mount, Fear of Riding in Them Rises, Too,” The Washington Post, July 26, 2018. Photo by Grendelkhan.

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