Deadly Week for Autonomous Tech Raises Trust Issues

By: Bridget Clerkin April 10, 2018
After two fatal accidents involving self-driving cars, confidence in the technology is slipping, a poll showed.
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Change is always hard—especially when the task at hand is as monumental as implementing autonomous cars.

Yet when it comes to rolling out the futuristic transportation, the hardest thing of all to change may be people’s minds.

More Americans than ever are reporting strong suspicions about self-driving technology following high-profile incidents involving autonomous autos that resulted in the deaths of two people.

The numbers come courtesy of a survey conducted by marketing firm Morning Consult, in which 50% of respondents said they believed autonomous cars were less safe than human drivers, compared to just 27% who thought the autos were safer.

The statistics, recorded between March 29 and April 1, not only halt but also reverse a trend that otherwise documented the public tepidly embracing the idea of self-piloted vehicles—or at least becoming less afraid of them.

A Morning Consult poll conducted in January found 33% of participants claiming self-driving cars were safer than humans, while just 36% of those surveyed said they believed the cars were less safe. (The findings fall in line with other assessments taken at the time, including a AAA poll conducted in January that found a 15% year-over-year drop in the number of participants scared to ride in an autonomous vehicle.)

Likely making all the difference is a particularly bad news cycle for the autonomous tech, in which two people died at the hands of the vehicles in a matter of days.

An Arizona woman was mowed down by a self-driving Uber on March 18 after the car failed to recognize or react to her crossing the road, while the driver of a Tesla Model X SUV died in a fiery crash on March 23 after the car’s autopilot steered it straight into a traffic median.

The accidents have sent the autonomous industry reeling, with several major operators moving to temporarily suspend testing in the wake of the tragedies. Still, with trillions of dollars at stake, the industry will almost certainly continue forging ahead, leaving Americans little choice but to face their self-driving fears.

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