MIT study: Consumers not yet ready for fully self-driving cars

The report from MIT’s AgeLab and the New England Motor Press Association finds younger drivers are more interested in fully autonomous vehicles.
The report from MIT’s AgeLab and the New England Motor Press Association finds younger drivers are more interested in fully autonomous vehicles. –Yuya Shino / REUTERS

A study from MIT’s AgeLab and the New England Motor Press Association found consumers are not yet ready to trust fully autonomous, also known as self-driving, cars.

The study asked nearly 3,000 participants about whether they would be “comfortable using’’ autonomous vehicle technology and related technology that is currently available in some cars. The survey found younger consumers were most likely to be comfortable with fully self-driving cars.

Forty percent of drivers between ages 25 and 34 were interested in fully autonomous vehicles. Drivers between ages 35 and 44 showed the next highest level of interest with 34.4 percent of this age group interested in full autonomy.

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Older drivers showed the least interest in fully autonomous vehicles with only 12.7 percent of drivers age 75 and older trusting the tech.

“The survey results suggest there may be some hesitation about one’s comfort with full automation among the older adult population who could benefit the most,’’ said Bryan Reimer, research scientist at the MIT AgeLab, in a statement.

More than half of the survey participants identified themselves as over 55 years old.

The survey found participants were open to some level of automated vehicle technology for certain safety functions. Most respondents were willing to rely on technology to reduce the severity of a crash, help with speed control, assist with steering or occasionally take control and drive.

Most respondents said they were satisfied with the technology available in their current vehicle with 28 percent saying they were “very happy’’ with their vehicle’s technology and 42 percent said they “like most’’ of their vehicle’s tech offerings.

Another 15 percent said they “like but don’t use’’ the technology in their current vehicle.

NEMPA president Craig Fitzgerald said the survey highlights the importance of training motorists how to use in-car technologies.

“There’s hardly a limit to the advanced safety technologies we can build into our cars,’’ said Fitzgerald, who is also editor-in-chief of the car-shopping site BestRide.com. “The survey results indicate that we’re leaving out a critical component if we’re not training drivers on how these technologies actually work. We learned this when we first introduced anti-lock brakes and stability control, and the learning curve is no different now.’’

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As far as preferred learning methods, respondents in older age brackets said they preferred to rely on their vehicle manual. Younger drivers preferred to learn how to use their vehicle’s technology by using websites or online videos. Younger and middle-aged drivers were also interested in having the car itself teach them how to use the technology. Drivers over age 75 were the least interested in this option.

The MIT-NEMPA survey echoes the findings of earlier studies from J.D. Power and Associates and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that also found younger drivers are more likely to trust autonomous vehicles.

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