Only a third of Americans believe driverless cars are safer than human drivers, finds poll

driver using her cell phone in a car

While some Americans are open to the idea of driverless cars on the roads, many are still concerned about their safety and about letting self-driving cars have full control.

That's according to a poll from media and technology company Morning Consult, which found that almost a quarter (23%) of US adults would be happy to ride in a driverless vehicle now, with a further 42% saying that they would consider it in future.

Those questioned also said that they like some of the promised features of driverless cars, with the majority (57%) saying that they are comfortable with automatic braking technologies that avoid collisions and steering assistance that keeps vehicles in the correct lane.

On a positive note for the driverless car industry, four in ten of those polled (40%) claim to have a favourable view of driverless cars. 

However, nearly half of respondents (47%) currently hold an unfavourable view, found the survey.

When it comes to safety, 41% of those questioned believe that autonomous cars are less safe than vehicles driven by humans, with another 7% saying that autonomous cars and human drivers are equally safe. 

A further third (33%) of respondents believe that driverless cars are already safer than those operated by humans, found the poll, while one in five of those questioned (19%) either didn't know or did not have an opinion either way.

These figures are similar to those in a previous survey a year ago, when 31% of respondents felt autonomous cars were safe and 43% did not think they were. 

Asked about specific autonomous driving manoeuvres, almost half of those questioned (49%) said that they are comfortable with speed changes, 37% are comfortable with driverless cars making turns, and 32% are happy with them changing lanes.

Comparing different driving environments, more than half of those polled (53%) said that they are comfortable with driverless cars operating on open roads, while only a third (32%) feel the same way about autonomous vehicles operating in large cities – perhaps reflecting the additional complexities involved in urban driving.

Results from morning consult's survey showing what americans think passengers should and shouldn't do in driverless cars

The survey also found that people are not yet ready for passengers to switch off when being driven in an autonomous car.

Although 52% of adults are happy with passengers talking on the phone in an autonomous vehicle, a slight majority (55%) of those polled said that it would be unacceptable to text or email in a driverless car. 

Almost two-thirds (64%) felt the same about passengers drinking or watching videos, while 61% think it's unacceptable to read in an autonomous vehicle.

Three out of four of those questioned (75%) do not think passengers should sleep in a driverless car.

At a glance – key autonomous vehicle survey findings

  • 23% of Americans would ride in an autonomous vehicle today
  • 42% would consider doing so in future
  • 40% of those questioned have a favourable view of self-driving cars
  • 41% believe autonomous cars are less safe than those driven by humans
  • 33% believe driverless cars are already safer than human drivers
  • 75% of respondents do not think passengers should sleep in driverless cars