The Driverless Debate: Equal Percentages of Americans See Self-Driving Cars as the “Wave of the Future” Yet Would Never Consider Purchasing One

Americans are split on whether self-driving vehicles are safe for those inside them, but majorities see them as a danger to pedestrians and fellow drivers

08:00 AM EDT Mar 24, 2015 Rating
  • Tools
The Driverless Debate: Equal Percentages of Americans See Self-Driving Cars as the “Wave of the Future” Yet Would Never Consider Purchasing One

New York, N.Y. – As we are now 15 years into the millennium, many of us are no doubt wondering why we aren’t yet commuting to work via flying car, à la “The Jetsons.” While our cars may not be taking flight in the near future, vehicle automation is becoming increasingly prevalent, with many vehicles now equipped with features such as park-assist and adaptive cruise control to aid in everyday driving chores. Some manufacturers have even begun making forays into vehicles that can drive themselves in some capacity, with more on the way. But how do Americans feel about sharing their roads with cars which can get themselves from point A to point B without a human taking the wheel? Recent findings indicate that Americans have yet to come to a consensus on the topic.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,276 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 12 and 17, 2014.

When provided with a brief description of self-driving vehicles and an aided list of potential feelings they may have towards the technology, Americans display a wide range of sentiments towards the subject. On one hand, there are many positive reactions to the vehicles. Over one-third (35%) say these vehicles are the future of driving and 24% think they are the designated drivers of the future. Meanwhile, almost one quarter of adults (24%) believe self-driving vehicles are something out of “The Jetsons” cartoon. Just over one-fifth of Americans (22%) say it’s a technology they’d love to have and 19% say they’re “insanely cool.”

But it’s not all sunshine and robots, with 34% saying the vehicles are an unnecessary luxury and nearly a third (32%) feeling they’re something only rich people could afford. Furthermore, 30% say they’re an even lazier way to drive. Then there are those who just don’t know what to make of them, with 12% saying they’re “confusing.”

The peaks and pitfalls

Digging into the specifics, Americans see a number of benefits and drawbacks to the use of self-driving vehicles, when presented with a list of options. Likely benefits include increased fuel economy (30%), more leisure/free time (21%), and increased productivity (18%). It should also be noted, however, that one-quarter (25%) of Americans do not see any benefits to self-driving vehicles.

Looking at the drawbacks, 80% of Americans feel computer “glitches” are a likely downfall of self-driving vehicles. Added costs are a concern as well. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) feel the vehicles would cost more to service due to increased complexity and 45% say higher insurance costs or an additional “rider” are likely drawbacks. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of Americans also note personal data breaches as a likely drawback. Only 7% of adults don’t see any drawbacks to self-driving vehicles.

Safety: saving grace or cause for concern?

There are many safety factors to consider when looking at self-driving vehicles. Are they safe for those inside them? What about for others on the road? Can they make mistakes? Will they prevent accidents? Americans are largely split on implications for those inside them: 48% say self-driving vehicles would be “safe” for this group and 52% say “dangerous.” However, Americans edge towards a consensus when thinking of those outside the vehicles. Fifty-seven percent feel self-driving vehicles would be dangerous for other drivers in their proximity and 61% say the same for pedestrians. Matures are especially likely to worry that self-driving vehicles would be dangerous for pedestrians (73% vs. 63% Baby Boomers, 61% Gen X, & 56% Millennials) and other drivers (69% vs. 59%, 57%, & 51%).

And how do Americans rate self-driving vehicles against the average driver? Well, it depends on the activity. Americans have the most confidence when it comes to parallel parking, with 62% expecting that self-driving vehicles are less likely to make an error than human drivers; slightly fewer say the same for parking in a parking lot (56%) and driving on the highway (54%). This confidence dwindles when it comes to driving in a city; in this situation, 57% of Americans say self-driving vehicles will be more likely than the average driver to make an error.

Americans do, however, see some safety-related benefits in these vehicles in the form of fewer accidents and minimizing other driver-induced errors. Over half identify fewer accidents caused by drunk driving (53%) and distracted driving (also 53%) as likely benefits of self-driving vehicles. Half of adults (50%) feel they have a reduced likelihood of speeding tickets and 44% feel there is a reduced likelihood of rear-ending another car. Another potential benefit, seen as likely by 41%, is a reduced likelihood of running a red light.

To buy or not to buy

All things considered, what will it take before Americans will consider purchasing this new technology? Over one-fifth (22%) say they will consider buying/leasing when they believe the “bugs” have been worked out. Seventeen percent say they will consider doing so when self-driving vehicles drop to a price they think is reasonable. This is especially true of Millennials (23% vs. 15% Gen X, 13% Baby Boomers, & 13% Matures). Others say they’ll wait until they read or hear positive feedback from people using them (7%), and 17% simply aren’t sure what it will take for them to consider buying/leasing.

Most notably, however, a third (33%) say they will never consider buying or leasing a self-driving vehicle. Matures are more likely than all other generations to indicate this (50% vs. 36% Baby Boomers, 36% Gen X, & 22% Millennials).

“Distance drivers” may prove to be the industry’s best bet

Americans who drive more than 30 miles a day may be the best target for these new-fangled vehicles for a number of reasons. They are more likely than their counterparts (those driving less than 30 miles a day) to share some positive sentiments towards self-driving vehicles, including feeling they are a technology they would love to have (27% vs. 20%) and that they’re “insanely cool” (24% vs. 17%). Those who drive more are also more likely to cite increased productivity as a benefit (23% vs. 17%). Furthermore, they may be more open to buying or leasing one, as they’re less likely than lower-distance drivers to say they will never consider purchasing a self-driving vehicle (28% vs. 35%, respectively).

 

TABLE 1

DAILY TRANSPORTATION METHOD

“Which of the following best describes your day-to-day method of transportation (i.e., how you typically go about getting to work/school, running errands, etc.)? Please select all that apply.”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

%

Driving

81

Walking

19

Public transit system (e.g., subway, bus)

10

Carpooling (as a passenger)

5

Biking

5

Taxi

2

Other

4

 

TABLE 2

VEHICLE OWNERSHIP STATUS

“Do you currently own, lease, or regularly use a vehicle such as a car, truck, minivan, or SUV?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

%

Yes

87

No

13

 

TABLE 3

NUMBER OF VEHICLES OWNED

“And how many vehicles, in total, such as cars, trucks or minivans or SUV’s, are owned, leased or regularly used within your household?”

Base: Own, Lease Or Use a Vehicle

 

Total

%

1

39

2

45

3+

16

Mean

1.8 Vehicles

 

TABLE 4

MILES DRIVEN DAILY

“How many miles would you estimate that you travel in an average day? If you are unsure, please provide your best guess.”

Base: Own, Lease Or Use a Vehicle

 

Total

%

0

2

1-10

36

11-20

27

21-30

12

31+

22

Mean

25.6 miles

 

TABLE 5

KNOWLEDGE OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

“As you may or may not know, a self-driving vehicle is a car, truck or SUV capable of navigating without or with limited human input. Prior to reading this description, had you heard, seen or read anything about self-driving vehicle?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

%

Yes

65

No

35


TABLE 6

FEELINGS TOWARDS SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

“Based on this description and any knowledge you might already have had about self-driving vehicles, which of the following describe how you feel about this technology? Please select all that apply. Self-driving vehicles are...”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The future of driving

35

35

33

37

31

40

30

35

36

An unnecessary luxury

34

31

32

36

42

29

39

36

33

Something only rich people could afford

32

34

27

33

29

25

38

32

28

An even lazier way to drive

30

31

31

30

22

27

32

31

30

The designated drivers of the future

24

24

20

28

23

27

21

24

24

Something out of “The Jetsons” cartoons

24

21

26

24

25

20

27

24

23

A technology I’d love to have

22

30

18

17

16

24

19

20

27

Insanely cool

19

29

19

12

7

21

17

17

24

Confusing

12

12

9

12

17

10

14

13

10

Something else

13

15

17

11

11

13

14

12

12

 

TABLE 7a

SAFETY OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES - SUMMARY

“How safe or dangerous do you feel a self-driving vehicle would be for each of the following?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

 

Very/ Somewhat safe
(NET)

Very safe

Somewhat safe

Very/ Somewhat dangerous (NET)

Somewhat dangerous

Very dangerous

Those inside it.

%

48

17

31

52

32

21

Other drivers in its proximity.

%

43

16

27

57

34

23

Pedestrians in its proximity.

%

39

15

24

61

34

27

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 7b

SAFETY OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES – SUMMARY OF VERY/SOMEWHAT SAFE

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “How safe or dangerous do you feel a self-driving vehicle would be for each of the following?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Those inside it.

48

53

47

46

39

52

43

45

54

Other drivers in its proximity.

43

49

43

41

31

47

39

39

52

Pedestrians in its proximity.

39

44

39

37

27

44

33

36

44

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 7c

SAFETY OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES – SUMMARY OF VERY/SOMEWHAT DANGEROUS

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “How safe or dangerous do you feel a self-driving vehicle would be for each of the following?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Pedestrians in its proximity.

61

56

61

63

73

56

67

64

56

Other drivers in its proximity.

57

51

57

59

69

53

61

61

48

Those inside it.

52

47

53

54

61

48

57

55

46

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 8a

MORE/LESS LIKELY TO MAKE ERRORS – SUMMARY

“And would you expect a self-driving vehicle to be more or less likely than the average driver to make an error in the following situations?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

 

More Likely (NET)

Much More Likely

Somewhat More Likely

Less Likely (NET)

Somewhat Less Likely

Much Less Likely

Driving in a city

%

57

21

37

43

26

17

Driving on the highway

%

46

16

30

54

33

21

Parking in a parking lot

%

44

15

28

56

33

23

Parallel parking

%

38

14

23

62

34

29

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

  TABLE 8b

MORE LIKELY TO MAKE ERRORS

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “And would you expect a self-driving vehicle to be more or less likely than the average driver to make an error in the following situations?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

 

Driving in a city

57

58

57

56

59

53

61

59

55

 

Driving on the highway

46

45

48

45

45

39

52

47

40

 

Parking in a parking lot

44

48

43

41

39

40

47

44

41

 

Parallel parking

38

41

37

36

33

35

40

38

35

 

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 8c

LESS LIKELY TO MAKE ERRORS

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “And would you expect a self-driving vehicle to be more or less likely than the average driver to make an error in the following situations?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

 

Parallel parking

62

59

63

64

67

65

60

62

65

 

Parking in a parking lot

56

52

57

59

61

60

53

56

59

 

Driving on the highway

54

55

52

55

55

61

48

53

60

 

Driving in a city

43

42

43

44

41

47

39

41

45

 

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 9

LIKELY BENEFITS OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “Which, if any, of the following do you believe to be likely benefits of self-driving vehicles? Please select all that apply.”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Fewer accidents caused by drunk driving

53

54

49

55

54

54

53

53

54

Fewer accidents caused by distracted driving

53

50

49

57

56

54

51

54

52

Reduced likelihood of speeding tickets

50

50

44

52

54

53

47

50

50

Reduced likelihood of rear-ending another car

44

40

40

49

48

47

41

46

43

Reduced likelihood of running a red light

41

39

36

46

44

45

37

40

45

Increased fuel economy

30

31

31

28

27

34

25

31

30

More leisure/free time

21

26

25

16

9

26

16

20

22

Increased productivity

18

26

20

12

4

20

15

17

23

Something else

4

5

5

3

1

5

3

3

2

I see no benefits to self-driving cars

25

21

27

26

31

23

27

25

23

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 


TABLE 10

LIKELY DRAWBACKS OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “And which, if any, of the following do you believe to be likely drawbacks of self-driving vehicles? Please select all that apply.”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Computer “glitches” (e.g., navigation mistakes, misreading speed limits)

80

74

80

85

86

78

83

84

78

Would cost more to service due to increased complexity

69

61

68

73

81

66

71

70

73

Higher insurance costs or an additional “rider”

45

42

41

46

60

40

50

46

40

Personal data breaches

37

38

37

38

34

38

36

37

37

Something else

10

12

10

10

3

11

9

10

8

I see no drawbacks to self-driving cars

7

11

7

4

4

8

6

5

6

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 11

TIMING OF PURCHASE CONSIDERATION

By Generation, Gender, and Miles traveled per day

 “Which of the following best describes at what point, if ever, you will be likely to consider purchasing a self-driving vehicle? I will consider buying or leasing a self-driving vehicle...”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Miles traveled per day (avg)

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

0-30 miles

31+ miles

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

When I believe the “bugs” have been worked out.

22

23

24

21

16

25

19

22

26

When they drop to a price I think is reasonable.

17

23

15

13

13

17

17

16

18

When I read or hear positive feedback from people using them.

7

7

6

7

5

7

7

7

8

When my favorite auto manufacturer offers them

2

2

3

2

3

3

1

2

3

When they include features I can’t get anywhere else.

2

3

1

2

-

3

2

2

3

I will never consider buying or leasing a self-driving vehicle.

33

22

36

36

50

30

36

35

28

Not sure

17

19

15

18

13

16

18

16

15

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between November 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,276 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #18, March 24, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

Want Harris Polls delivered direct to your inbox? Click here!

Rate This Article: