Study: Many drivers feel less safe sharing the road with autonomous cars

Although autonomous test vehicles are allowed on public roads in 38 states, plus Washington D.C., a survey from AAA and Harvard shows that many drivers don’t like the idea of sharing roads with these test vehicles. In fact, depending on the road and vehicle, 43% to 53% felt less safe having the test vehicles on the road. Only 11% to 13% felt safer with those vehicles on the road, and the remainder were either unsure or felt it wouldn’t change things.

The survey also revealed that there are actions companies and researchers can take to make concerned drivers feel safer. The top two include clearly marking an autonomous test car as such, and possibly creating designated lanes and areas for testing. Another item that fewer people said would make them comfortable would be designated time slots when autonomous vehicles could test.

There could be drawbacks to some of those options. Marking an autonomous vehicle obviously and clearly could cause drivers to act unnaturally and affect testing data. Designated lanes could either reduce traffic volume, or cost additional money to construct. And restricting testing to specific lanes and time periods could also mean testing couldn’t happen during as many situations such as heavy or light traffic.

At least one state is trying out autonomous-only lanes, though. Last summer Michigan announced construction of an autonomous bus corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor. It’s a combination of trying out autonomous technology and also trying to enhance public transit.

Also, although many drivers may feel less safe being on the road with autonomous test vehicles, they’re more split as to whether they generally support or oppose testing on public roads. The survey found people were pretty evenly divided between supporting, opposing or being unsure, with a slight edge to opposing (34% for, 36% against). So there certainly is an opportunity for autonomous vehicle developers to educate motorists and take steps to earn their trust.

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