Drivers showing increased acceptance of autonomous technology

More and more drivers are showing interest in vehicle features which automate some driving functions, according to an analysis by the automotive site Edmunds.com. While older drivers continued to distrust the idea of a completely autonomous vehicle, nearly two-thirds of younger drivers said they would feel safe riding in one.

In a report entitled "Transportation Transformation: The Current State of the Autonomous Car," Edmunds looked at the prevalence of autonomous features in new vehicles in recent years. It also surveyed 1,500 American adults who purchased or leased a new or used vehicle within the past three years to get a sense of their interest and comfort regarding self-driving technology.

The report says that while less than a quarter of 2012 model year vehicles were considered to be at Level 1 or Level 2 autonomy, the share rose to more than 60 percent for 2017 model year vehicles. The autonomy definitions by the Society of Automotive Engineers define Level 1 vehicles as being able to take control of steering or acceleration and deceleration in certain modes, while Level 2 has modes in which it can control both steering and speed.

Both levels require a human to pay attention to the road and maintain ultimate control of the vehicle. The SAE levels go up to Level 5, in which a vehicle is fully automated and can drive to a destination with or without a human occupant.

Several automakers and technology companies are currently working to develop this type of driverless vehicle. Edmunds determined that Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Volvo offered active safety features such as blind spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking on the widest variety of vehicles.

"While there are a number of ways one can define who's 'leading' in the race to autonomy, analyzing the prevalence of active safety features demonstrates just how ready OEMs are to bring this technology to mass production, and how willing consumers are to adopt it," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds. "While some car buyers may view a fully autonomous vehicle as a novelty, a vehicle that has the ability to prevent an accident before it occurs is seen as a safety breakthrough."

Blind spot detection has seen a surge of implementation. While it was virtually nonexistent on 2005 model year vehicles, it is available on 73 percent of 2017 model year vehicles. This was also the most popular feature among the surveyed drivers, with 61 percent saying they would be willing to pay more for it on their next vehicle.

A similar increase in active safety feature availability has occurred with other technologies. Sixty-six percent of 2017 model year vehicles offer lane departure warning systems, while 62 percent include adaptive cruise control and 57 percent have pre-collision braking.

Automatic parking systems have not seen the same surge in popularity. This feature was largely unavailable through the 2014 model year, and is only available on 2 percent of 2017 model year vehicles.

Active safety features debuted on luxury vehicles, and are still more widely available in this segment. However, Edmunds notes how non-luxury vehicles have quickly closed the gap, adopting the features on a large share of models.

"Usually it takes a long time for pricey new technologies to work their way down market from luxury to mainstream vehicles, but because changes in policy are mandating that many active safety features become standard, it's happening much more quickly," said Caldwell.

For example, automatic emergency braking is set to become nearly ubiquitous after 20 automakers agreed to make automatic emergency braking standard on their vehicles by the year 2022. Respondents to Edmunds' survey showed an increased acceptance of this kind of pre-collision system, with 52 percent saying they would be willing to pay extra to have this feature available on their next vehicle.

Forty-one percent said they would pay more for a lane departure warning or lane keeping assist system. Thirty-four percent indicated that they would pay extra for adaptive cruise control, while one-third would pay more for automatic parking. Twenty-four percent said they would not be willing to pay extra for active safety features.

Among respondents who were willing to pay a premium for at least one autonomous feature, 42 percent said they would be willing to pay $1,000 to $2,000 extra. Another 42 percent said they would only pay less than $1,000, while 16 percent were willing to pay $3,000 or more.

Respondents were also asked how comfortable they would be in a vehicle that can drive itself, but requires a human to sit in the driver's seat and be able to override the self-driving system and take control at any time. This corresponds to the SAE's definition of a Level 4 autonomous vehicle.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents under the age of 34—65 percent—said they would feel safe in such a vehicle, along with 58 percent of those in the 34 to 44 age group. Respondents were increasingly wary of this type of autonomous vehicle as they got older, with 71 percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64 and 72 percent of those ages 65 and older saying they would feel unsafe.

Similarly, younger drivers were more likely to be willing to buy such a vehicle. Thirty-five percent of those under the age of 34 said they would buy this type of autonomous vehicle if it became available in less than five years, along with one-third of those between the ages of 34 and 44.

Sixteen percent of the youngest age group and 20 percent of the second youngest age group said they would never buy a vehicle capable of driving itself. This share increased to about half of all respondents ages 55 and older.

"As active safety features continue to become more and more prolific, we predict these older buyers will start to feel more comfortable with autonomous technology," said Caldwell. "Our analysis shows the interest in autonomy is there – it's just a matter of continuing to demonstrate to buyers that the benefits will outweigh any perceived risks."

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