Gender, Political Divide on Public’s Trust in Driverless Cars

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Google is already testing its prototype driverless cars in California, and with the exception of 11 fender-benders, they seem safe so far.

Google isn’t alone in the market – BMW and Uber are also testing autonomous vehicles, raising the question whether humans may soon be passengers in the driver’s seat.

That doesn’t sit well with many Americans.

A plurality of U.S. voters – 43 percent – say autonomous vehicles are not safe at all, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Thirty-one percent of respondents consider the vehicles totally safe.

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The trust gap is even wider. Sixty-four percent of registered voters said they trust humans more than machines when it comes to driving, compared with 16 percent who prefer a computer steering the wheel.

“Humans believe they are better drivers than machines, despite objective evidence to the contrary,” said Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Driverless cars actually have a very safe record when it comes to avoiding accidents, but people still think they do a better job.”

The polling results also indicate a gender divide when it comes to confidence in self-driving cars. Thirty-nine percent of men consider them safe, but only 23 percent of women agreed.

West said the lack of trust in autonomous technology among women is part of a larger trend.

“Women tend to be more cautious about adopting new technologies,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “They want to see what works and be sure that the technology will deliver on its stated contributions.”

When it comes to riding in an autonomous vehicle, 29 percent of poll respondents said they would, while 49 percent said they’d pass. Men were more likely, at 38 percent, compared with 22 percent of women.

Broken down along party lines, 33 percent of Democrats said they would ride in a driverless car, compared with 26 percent of Republicans.

While 29 percent of voters said autonomous technology will be widely available within the next 10 years, and another 23 percent said it will take longer than that, West predicted that the public is likely to see driverless cars on the roads within five years.

“It’s a trend that’s moving faster than a lot of people believe,” he said.

The poll was conducted from June 12 through June 15 among a national sample of 2,039 registered voters. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult