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Poll: Americans still not convinced driverless vehicles will work

When you walk onto the showroom floor of a Visalia car dealership, salespeople will be eager to show you the latest safety features on the newest models. Many 2021 vehicles have active safety systems such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, rear automatic emergency braking and more.

All of the safety systems are designed to keep drivers out of motor vehicle crashes that can result in serious injuries and fatalities.

According to a recent study, about a third of Americans are eager to have the latest safety technologies in their vehicles – including the automatic systems – but slightly more than half don’t think autonomous, self-driving vehicles will ever fulfill their promise.

Americans are ‘traditional’ drivers

The Mobility Study by tire and technology company Continental AG finds that most Americans are “traditional” drivers, meaning that when they’re in a vehicle, they prefer to be behind the wheel of their own car.

While many U.S. drivers like their vehicles equipped with the latest safety tech, they’re not yet willing to embrace autonomous vehicles.

Eliminating errors

Because Continental AG – headquartered in Germany – is one of many large companies developing autonomous technology, they are quick to point out in text accompanying the study that “one of the biggest advantages to assisted and automated driving is a reduction in traffic crashes.“ Their reasoning is much like the reasoning used by other firms in the chase to develop driverless vehicles: “Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation.”

Removing human error would have an enormous impact on traffic accidents: “an astounding 94 percent of all traffic crashes” are the result of drivers’ choices, Continental says.

According to the survey, 77 percent of U.S. respondents prefer to be behind the wheel when they’re in a vehicle, and 88 percent say they prefer to drive their own car.

Though skepticism about automated vehicles is waning, it remains significant. While three-quarters of 2018 respondents believed self-driving vehicles will never work properly, that figure dropped to 52 percent last year.

About 50 percent of respondents believe that automated driving will help prevent motor vehicle wrecks.

Slow acceptance

Robert Lee, president of Continental North America, said he thinks that Americans are “slow to accept the idea of a fully automated system” because the technology and its safety benefits aren’t widely understood.

While that observation might be accurate, it’s also fair to say that many Americans don’t embrace autonomous tech’s potential after several driverless vehicles were involved in highly publicized wrecks, including here in California.

For now, everyone must continue to focus on driving smartly and defensively to protect ourselves, our families and other motorists.