Public Doesn't Like Driverless Cars The Way Techies Do

Martin Romjue
Posted on September 2, 2016

An illustrated argument in favor of driverless cars. Or not. Driverless cars won't give you as much control and choice as the smartphone in the driver's hand. (Photo by pexels.com:✓ Free for personal and commercial use✓ No attribution required
An illustrated argument in favor of driverless cars. Or not. Driverless cars won't give you as much control and choice as the smartphone in the driver's hand. (Photo by pexels.com:✓ Free for personal and commercial use✓ No attribution required
I'm working on an article for the October technology issue about driverless cars and how they may affect chauffeured fleet operations, say five to 10 years down the road. It seems every prediction about driverless cars is coming true, sooner than expected. Ford plans a driverless car without steering wheels or brakes by 2021. Uber is experimenting with manned autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh, Penn. Ditto for nuTonomy and its driverless cabs in Singapore.

The loss of direct control over our mobility seems inevitable. Except, for all the advances in technology, robotics and networked mobility, a recent survey shows why humans may retain ultimate control: Will they want it, or like it? 

A new Vox/Morning Consult poll shows people in the U.S. are more worried than excited about the future of automated vehicles, especially over jobs and safety. Only 32% of respondents believe self-driving cars will improve the overall driving experience, while 48% said they didn’t think they would. That's a negativity ratio in the ball park of those for Hillary and Trump. Most stunning: 78% of respondents said they had never used Uber or Lyft, with many justifying it’s easier to use their own car than hire a private ride. 

vocativ.com article here

Therein lies the destiny of the driverless era. If people don't want driverless vehicles, fear them, or just loathe them, then look for the issue to become political, with voters acting out at all ballot boxes and all levels of government. The survey did show more acceptance of self-driving vehicles among Millennials, and the lowest among seniors. So it may take a generational shift for majority embrace of driverless vehicles. Given the projected longevity of Baby Boomers, that could still take decades. 

I've often heard the likelihood of driverless cars compared to the speedy arrival and acceptance of iPhones. Such an analogy fails on the level of human psychology. You control your iPhone in every way; it's a mass produced device that enables and empowers all levels of human choice and control. A driverless vehicle does not. Would you want an iPhone without red or green accept-hang up call buttons? One without volume control? One that prompts, "No soup apps for you!"?

The primal human desire for freedom and control, or at least the illusion of it, evident in abundant consumer choices, is one factor even technology may never master.

Ultimately, tech is a tool. Do we want tools we can never choose to put back in the box when we're done?

Related Topics: autonomous vehicles, driver behavior, driverless cars, Editor's Edge Blog, industry trends, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, research and trends, self-driving vehicles, survey

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