Survey: Californians Wary of Self-Driving Cars

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Orange County Register (California)

April 9, 2018

As self-driving cars edge closer to transitioning from fiction to fact, Californians are overwhelmingly wary of the technology. By wide margins, state residents say they don’t want autonomous vehicles in their neighborhoods and they wouldn’t feel safe riding in such a vehicle on any street, according to a new Southern California News Group/Eyewitness News poll released last week.

As self-driving cars edge closer to transitioning from fiction to fact, Californians are overwhelmingly wary of the technology.

By wide margins, state residents say they don’t want autonomous vehicles in their neighborhoods and they wouldn’t feel safe riding in such a vehicle on any street, according to a new Southern California News Group/Eyewitness News poll released Friday by Survey USA.

The survey of 1,100 California residents was conducted in mid-March, four days after news broke that an Uber vehicle running on autopilot had struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

More than half of all state residents (57%) don’t want autonomous vehicles on streets in their neighborhood, while less than one in four (23%) say it would be OK, and about one in five (19%) aren’t sure.

The “not in my neighborhood” feeling was more pronounced among seniors (4 to 1 against), and residents of rural communities (5 to 1 against).

State residents expressed similar views when asked about the relative safety of self-driven cars.

More than half (57%) would feel “unsafe” or “very unsafe” riding in such a car, while 28% say they would feel “safe” or “very safe,” and 15% are not sure.

Though the survey didn’t find any group to be in favor of self-driving cars, it did find that men are more likely than women to welcome the technology, and that liberals, generally, aren’t as resistant to it as are conservatives.

The survey also found that state residents aren’t sure what government agency, if any, should regulate the technology when and if self-driving vehicles come to the roads.

A slight plurality, 29%, want the state to oversee self-driving cars, while 24% want the job to fall to the federal government and 19% to their local leaders. A sliver of all respondents, 4%, say carmakers should regulate the technology themselves, while a bigger group, 9%, want no oversight at all.

The survey comes as self-driving cars come closer to the market.

Earlier this year, Audi introduced a vehicle, the Audi 8, which it bills as the first commercially sold vehicle to offer a self-driving mode feature. The company’s so-called “Traffic Jam Pilot” can handle braking, steering and acceleration, but only when the car is on a road with a center barrier and only with speeds of less than 35 mph. But truck manufacturers, ride-sharing companies and computer companies, among others, are testing self-driving vehicles. And several states, including California, have at least considered traffic laws that would recognize self-driving vehicles.

It’s not clear if California is more or less wary of self-driving cars than are residents in other states. A Pew Research poll released in October found that 53% of respondents are “somewhat” or “very” worried about driverless vehicles.

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