When Will Consumers Trust Autonomous Cars?

by Chris Tweedt | Feb. 8, 2017

Almost everyone in the autonomous car industry thinks autonomous cars will make us safer. Those who present on autonomous cars repeat the stats: 1.2 million people worldwide die every year in car collisions, and in America alone there are 33,000 collision-caused deaths each year. 94% of those collisions involve human error. Autonomous cars can eliminate a significant number of those fatalities.

Even after a Florida driver was involved in a fatal Tesla crash while using the car’s Autopilot function in May 2016, Tesla noted that this fatality was the only fatality in the 130 million miles of autopilot driving by Tesla cars, and, on average, there is one fatality for every 94 million human-driven miles. Tesla’s Autopilot is better than average. 

But being better than average will not instill consumer trust. According to Parks Associates data, only 10% of U.S. car owners are interested in buying an autonomous car. What must automakers do to convince drivers that autonomous cars are safer? In order to convince consumers to trust autonomous cars, how many fewer accidents do there need to be with autonomous cars than human-driven cars? 5%? 25%? 75%? 

You might think the answer is easy—autonomous cars just need to have fewer collisions than average. That is not enough, though, because most Americans believe they’re better than average at driving—they rate themselves highly according to their own definitions of what makes for a “good driver.” 

How do automakers use statistics get consumers to trust autonomous cars? Roughly, automakers need to discover how good their key segments believe they are at driving. If their segment believes they are somewhere between the top 20% and 10% of all drivers, then the automaker can introduce autonomous cars when their autonomous cars have fewer collisions than 90% of drivers. Their segment should, then, believe that it is safer to let an autonomous car do the driving. 

This is, of course, if we assume the population is willing to be convinced by statistics. After all, many people are terrified of flying even though they know it’s the safest form of transportation. Perhaps customers need to experience riding in autonomous cars, too, and that is why it will help to introduce autonomous cars as part of a ride sharing, or taxi, model.

For more information on consumers' in-car behaviors and perception of driving safety, see Parks Associates' Connected Cars: Balancing a Rich Driving Experience with Safety

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