As automakers rush to develop self-driving cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans, most consumers have an incorrect perception of the emerging technology. That’s the latest finding of the J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index Study released Tuesday.
Driver education is key
When asked to choose one of seven possible descriptions that correctly defines fully automated self-driving vehicles, a mere 37% of respondents chose one of the two correct answers, with one defining Level 4 autonomy, the other Level 5. Fifty-five percent of respondents incorrectly selected descriptions of driver assist technology rather than self-driving technology.
What’s worse is that among drivers who profess to have more knowledge of fully automated self-driving vehicles, only 32% could describe it correctly. Among those who knew nothing of the technology, 37% described it correctly.
“This is a ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ moment for the fully automated self-driving vehicle industry,” said Lisa Boor, senior manager of global automotive at J.D. Power. “There is a significant gap between actual and perceived AV knowledge. Right now, consumers don’t know what they don’t know.”
“Consumer overconfidence and lack of knowledge to date can lead to risk taking that will cause the AV industry to hit a lot of potholes,” said Bryan Reimer, Ph.D., research scientist in the MIT AgeLab and associate director of The New England University Transportation Center at MIT.
The survey also found that among the 51% of consumers interested in automated vehicles, 53% believe the best way to learn about AVs is a special driver’s education course for self-driving vehicles, and 58% are willing to take such a class. So a slim majority of drivers realize their lack of knowledge.
Acceptance of AVs is rising
But overall confidence in automated automobiles is growing according to J.D. Power, with 42% of those surveyed expressing confidence in fully automated self-driving vehicles. That’s up from 34% a year ago. And 31% had full confidence in fully automated delivery vehicles. But that level of acceptance rises to 47% among those whose vehicles have driver assist technology. When asked, consumers also saw AVs as being a boon to those who can’t drive due to age, illness or injury.
But acceptance will increase only if the safety of AVs is assured.
“Organizations working as technology pioneers have the responsibility to create realistic and accurate consumer expectations for what their products can and cannot do,” Reimer said.
“Small setbacks in public trust triggered by misuse of systems or a failure of a system to perform based upon misconceived consumer expectations may hamper deployments over the coming decades, depriving consumers of the convenience and safety benefits the technology can potentially offer.”
Like, say, Tesla?
What will it take to enhance consumer knowledge?
Given that OEMs disguise common driver assist technology behind different marketing names rather than common ones, it’s no wonder that consumers have little understanding of self-driving technology.
“Clear, consistent messaging from industry stakeholders is needed to improve the accuracy of consumer AV knowledge,” Boor said. “The industry needs to be the catalyst for educating the public before running into such speed bumps. AV education must expand beyond current, traditional learning methods.”