Autonomous driving technology is improving at such a rate that in no time, the largest technical issues surrounding them will be overcome. What will prove to be the hardest thing to overcome is the human element on the roads. Currently, self driving cars have logged millions of hours of autonomous driving, however, as a whole, people still do not want these cars on the road. A recent poll by AAA said that 75% of Americans fear driving in a self driving car, with most of these being from the Baby Boomers and Generation X generations. This poll reflects the fact that despite their exceptional driving record, self driving cars still aren’t trusted.
To bridge this gap, I believe that companies must not only educate people on the features of their autonomous vehicles, but also cater to people’s emotion in order to built trust between the cars and passengers. Millennials have grown up with an increasing amount of automation and technology in their lives and for this reason, are more likely to trust technology. However, they only account for a fraction of the population and thus, autonomous car companies will have to work hard to foster trust. It is no wonder that getting in a car without a driving, running software you know nothing about, causes worry among the general population. However, parents regularly get in a car with 15 year olds as they learn to drive. With no experience and very real consequences, this is drastically more dangerous than getting in a self driving car. Autonomous vehicles on the other hand have an large amount of experience through both training data and practice hours. The difference is that parents trust their children.
Waymo, Google’s self driving car division has been tackling this issue through a focused ad campaign. A recent report says that Waymo may be rolling out an autonomous ride-hailing service as early as this fall and for this reason, Google has teamed up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, and the Federation for Blind Children. They appeal to Baby Boomers and Xers emotions by focusing on the issues that parents worry most about. Alcohol-impaired driving accounts for about 1/3 of all traffic related deaths so by reassuring parents that this is a safe solution, they may be able to get those generations to buy into the technology. Furthermore, by teaming up with the Federation for Blind Children, they can show parents how this technology will improve the lives of disabled children. By giving blind children greater access to transportation, they can greatly increase both their quality of life and sense of independence.
In 2016 U.S. traffic deaths hit a decade high at 37,000, emphasizing the need for a drastic change in how we operate on the roads. Most autonomous driving campaigns have been relatively unsuccessful in reassuring the general population about the introduction of this technology. However, between the government backing the proliferation of autonomous driving through recent legislation and this new more personal approach at fostering trust, I hope that the general population will begin to have more faith in this revolutionary technology. Unfortunately, I believe that ubiquitous adoption will not be possible for a few generations. People are stubborn and convincing people to give up such a central part of their lives will be all but impossible. This new approach will help, however, I think that it won’t be until a generation has grown up with this technology that we will fully embrace the technology as a whole.