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Investors love driverless cars. But what about consumers?

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It turns out that drivers are viewing the hottest thing in transportation tech with a healthy dose of skepticism.AP/Associated Press

Driverless cars are wooing investors, but what about consumers? According to survey data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it may be an uphill climb getting drivers to trust autonomous vehicles.

Researchers from the MIT AgeLab and the New England Motor Press Association surveyed 2,954 car-owning adults for their report, Autonomous Vehicles, Trust, and Driving Alternatives: A survey of consumer preferences.

They asked participants if they were willing to use different technologies that automate some part of the driving process: from none at all, to partial automation like steering assistance, to completely driverless cars.

Turns out that drivers are viewing the hottest thing in transportation tech with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Not surprisingly, tech-savvy millennials are the least daunted. Forty percent of millennial respondents aged 25 to 34 said they'd be willing to cede their spot behind the steering wheel to a host of sensors and algorithms.


"Cars are not just horsepower and metal and styling these days," said MIT's Bryan Reimer, who co-authored the report. "They're incredibly complex and technological systems.

But researchers didn't just survey millennials, a group that increasingly opts out of car ownership altogether, choosing ride-hailing services and public transportation instead.

Just 15 percent of those over 55 said they were willing to try a driverless vehicle, even though researchers say the technology could help them remain mobile later in life.

"Older adults in particular have the most to gain from automatic and advanced safety systems," said Craig Fitzgerald, the other report co-author and president of the New England Motor Press Association. "But even just the idea, after you've been behind the wheel for 40 years, is a little daunting."

Getting driverless cars on the road as the US population ages could increase public safety. Drivers over 80 are more likely than any other age group to cause a fatal car crash, according to a 2014 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But the Insurance Institute study also noted that auto fatality rates for seniors have dropped in recent years, attributing the decline in part to automatic vehicle safety features such as brakes that engage automatically to avoid collisions.


Companies are making progress bringing driverless technology to market.

Cambridge-based self-driving car startup nuTonomy recently said they were on track to launch a driverless taxi service in Singapore by 2018. Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., as well as Apple, Uber, and Lyft, are investing billions in initiatives to develop self-driving cars.

Amanda Burke can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @charlie_acb.