This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

Kelly Blue Book's recent national survey found respondents most comfortable with SAE Level 2 autonomy, but when asked to choose among the six levels, Level 4 was most preferred (all images courtesy KBB).

KBB Survey: Most consumers would accept SAE Level 4 autonomy, but think safety diminishes

Automotive vehicle valuation and shopping website Kelly Blue Book released results of a national survey regarding autonomous-vehicle technology and found that while consumers were evenly split about the ultimate safety of roads with autonomous vehicles, most believed vehicles become less safe as autonomous capability increases.

Perhaps contributing to the perception that high levels of autonomy are less safe, 60% of the survey’s 2,200 respondents admitted “that they know little or nothing about autonomous vehicles,” KBB’s 2016 Future Autonomous Vehicle Driver Study reported.

Kelley Blue Book said it commissioned the national study “to understand current consumer perceptions and misconceptions of autonomous vehicles overall—and by each level of autonomy.” One of the survey’s most comprehensive conclusions found that consumers “are torn between the need for safety and the desire for control, with 51% of respondents replying that they prefer to have full control of their vehicle, even if it’s not as safe for other drivers, while 49% prefer to have a safer roadway for all, even if that means they have less control over their own vehicle.”

“Much is still unknown about fully autonomous vehicles, including how they would react in emergency situations, but the lower-level options are gaining steam, with many Americans interested in purchasing vehicles with [SAE] Level 2 semi-autonomous features,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

SAE Level 4 autonomy is “sweet spot”

Although the majority of consumers not only indicated they know little about autonomous vehicles and perceive safety to be diminished as the level of autonomy increases, “when survey respondents were asked to make a choice between the different levels, SAE Level 4 autonomy hits the ‘sweet spot’ by providing all the benefits of full vehicle autonomy without stripping away the option of driver control,” KBB summarized in the survey report, adding, “This isn’t surprising, considering 80% of respondents believe that people should always have the option to drive themselves and 64% prefer to be in control of their vehicles.”

In fact, KBB’s survey found that interest in autonomous functionality peaks at Level 4; respondents indicated they believe Level 4 offers “the best of both worlds”—a vehicle that can always operate in fully autonomous mode if the driver desires, but retains option for driver control. Autonomous Level 3 did not appeal, with drivers believing they couldn’t fully relax. And extending to Level 5 autonomy, survey respondents found absolute autonomous design unconvincing because the option to drive is eliminated.

Generational trust, ride-sharing opportunity

Although nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents did not think they will live to see the roads populated exclusively by autonomous vehicles—and one-third also said they would never buy a fully autonomous vehicle—younger people, in general, are more knowledgeable about and seem more optimistic for autonomous technology.

Those in the “tech-savvy, pre-driving Gen Z (12-15 years old)” age range are most accepting of the notion of autonomy and “consider themselves the most educated about autonomous vehicles,” KBB said. And 67% of those pre-driving Gen Z respondents believe they will see fully autonomous vehicles in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, 42% of pre-driving Gen Z respondents said they’re well-educated about autonomous vehicles—compared with just 1% Baby Boomers (51-64 years old) who believe they have a good understanding of the technology. Pre-driving Gen Z respondents were the most comfortable and feel the safest among all age groups regarding SAE Level 5 full vehicle autonomy. Older Millennials (25-34 years old) were not far behind, at 44% comfort level and 61% feeling of safety.

And the relatively new-age phenomenon of ride-sharing seems to positively influence attitudes about autonomy. At least as it relates to whether someone else is driving you:

“Ride-share users are significantly more comfortable letting a vehicle drive them without their control (44%) versus non-ride-share users (34%),” KBB’s survey report summarized. “With ride-sharing users also more knowledgeable about self-driving vehicles (32% know a lot, versus 8% of non ride-sharers), they feel significantly more comfortable with the technology at Level 4 and Level 5,” and compared with respondents that don’t ride-share, feel that autonomous vehicles are safer.

Continue reading »