Do Drivers Want Self-Driving Cars?

Chris Moulder

CPCU, ARM – Vice President, Broker, Worldwide Facilities – Atlanta

January 4, 2018

Companies are eager to get self-driving cars on the roads. The push comes from car manufacturers like Tesla, Toyota, Volvo, GM, and BMW, as well as companies like Google and Uber. With all these powerful brands behind the effort, you’d think there would be a clear, strong consumer demand driving the trend.

But studies show a conflicted picture when it comes to consumer interest in self-driving cars. In May of 2017, MIT released the results of a survey of over 3,000 people. While respondents were open to the idea of driver-assist systems, most were not comfortable with the idea of completely autonomous cars.

A study from the Gartner Consumer Trends in Automotive corroborates this. More than half of the 1,500 people they surveyed stated that they wouldn’t feel safe riding in a fully-autonomous car. Much of the discomfort with self-driving cars seemed to boil down to a lack of trust in technology; respondents reported concern about being trapped in the car during a system malfunction, with no way to take control.

The 2017 JD Power Tech Choice study, released in April, detected a significant drop in consumers’ trust in technology. The study showed that almost all age groups—from those born in 2004 to those born in 1946—are less inclined to trust automated self-driving systems than they were a year ago. It also pinpointed specific reasons for this erosion in trust, including the increased complexity of systems and software’s vulnerability to hacking.

That said, it’s been clearly demonstrated that while consumers are nervous about fully-automated cars, they’re quite open to partially-automated technology—sometimes in the same study. The JD Power Tech Choice Study revealed a clear interest in driver-assist technologies including emergency braking and steering systems, lane change assist, and “smart” headlights. The MIT study showed that while only 13% of respondents were comfortable with fully-automated cars, 59% were open to the idea of partial-assist technologies.

Most automated technologies on the road today fall under the category of “driver-assist;” the car helps, but the driver is still in control. The natural next step would be to introduce technologies that drive the car most of the time, but allow the driver to take control in case of an emergency. Surveys show that drivers would be more comfortable with this scenario than a fully self-driving car.

However, drivers often have less than a second to respond in case of a crash even in non-autonomous cars. Shifting attention—from, say, watching a movie or playing a game on a phone to handling an emergency situation—is extremely difficult. For this reason, many manufacturers are attempting to skip this step entirely, focusing all their resources on fully self-driving cars.

It’s clear that consumers are mistrustful of self-driving technology. What isn’t clear is whether manufacturers can earn their trust. Even if consumer wariness slows demand, however, insurers must be prepared for the many ways automated technologies are already changing the industry.

For more information, contact Chris Moulder at or (678) 736-6723. Read and download Chris’s white paper “Autonomous Vehicle Insurance: At the Intersection of Manufacturer & Individual Risk.”

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