Self-driving cars are a futurist's dream come to life. They promise easier commutes, fewer accidents and less cars on the street, leading to safer, cleaner, and less congested cities. Yet as road testing gains momentum and consumer interest grows, many Americans remain uncertain about the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution on the horizon.

In a 2018 Esurance survey, only 17 percent of 1,000 drivers could imagine giving up driving — despite the idea of being able to use their time more productively while being auto-chauffeured.

What's driving the persistent concerns? We found it boils down to two primary factors: a general desire to maintain control and fear of the unknown.

Self-Control: Who Wants to Remain in the Driver’s Seat Most?

While 83 percent of overall consumers in our survey expressed low or no interest in giving up control behind the wheel, it was parents and older adults who skewed the outcome the most — and not necessarily in the way you'd expect.

Most interestingly, parents of children under the age of 19 were 60 percent more open to relinquishing driving control than non-parents to gain the benefits of multi-tasking while being driven around. The idea of getting a break from one of the many daily chores so many parents face, including driving, was likely too big a draw to be concerned with the potential downsides.

Parents Prefer Autonomous Vehicle Benefits

parents prefer autonomous vehicle benefits parents prefer autonomous vehicle benefits

Parents of younger kids may be quicker to jump on the self-driving car bandwagon, which is interesting as their children will likely grow up with AVs as the norm. Parents of children under age 10 were 35 percent more willing to relinquish driving control than those of tweens and teens (ages 10–18).

When the survey respondents are broken down by age, the results are less surprising: Younger respondents (aged 18-34) were three times more likely to embrace the benefits of being driven around on auto-pilot than adults aged 55 and over. That's a good sign of likely adoption to come down the line, as fully self-driving cars won't really be mainstream for at least another 20 years.

Older Adults Less Interested in Giving Up Driving Control

older adults less interested in driverless cars older adults less interested in driverless cars

Trust in Self-Driving Technology Will Have to Be Earned

Today, most consumers wouldn't trust an AV to drive them around. While some people believe that car tech can play a role in increased safety, other reports note skepticism that self-driving cars are the solution. In fact, 26 percent of people don't trust artificial intelligence to perform work, according to Brookings.

While one in three drivers we surveyed believe that some form of AV technology should be developed to combat distracted driving, according to Pew Research, only 39 percent of Americans believe AVs will make any positive impact on accident rates. That's despite expert claims that AVs have the potential to nearly eliminate accidents altogether.

We also analyzed 400,000 tweets including a sample around driverless tech and found that 17 percent of the conversation related to topics surrounding fears. Another 20 percent of those tweets cited news or other references to self-driving cars still being very much in research and development — including language around testing as well as pilot states like California and Arizona. Consistent areas of concern and questioning that may contribute to fears included:

  • Discussion of data privacy and security
  • Driving performance at night and in extreme weather
  • Laws and regulation (or lack thereof) around self-driving cars (6 percent of tweets)
  • Conversation about crashes and fatalities (6 percent of tweets).

Self-Driving Car Risks May Be Overblown

There's no doubt that the testing required to perfect a new technology introduces new risks, and self-driving cars are no exception.

While accident rates involving self-driving cars are currently 10 times higher than conventional vehicles, the majority (60 percent) of AV accidents to date have occurred at speeds less than 10 mph. They've generally resulted in only minor injuries, if any, according to road test data in California, the poster child state for testing this new tech.

What many consumers likely don't know is that since 2014, 30 of the 34 reported accidents related to AVs have been the result of human-driver error. In almost all cases, the human-driven car either rear-ended or bumped into the self-driving car. Self-driving cars were only deemed at fault in four incidents, and the cars were in autonomous mode in only one of them.

Humans More At-Fault in Self-Driving Car Accidents**

humans more at fault in self driving car accidents

**Source: California DMV

While any fatality is tragic, only three deaths have resulted from self-driving cars in the US in the past three years. To put that in perspective, nearly 38,000 deaths occur in the US annually because of human-driving error.

What Will a Driverless Future Mean for Insurance?

There's still much to be done before self-driving cars will be released for public use on a large scale. Testing, prototyping and adjustments are expected to continue for another two decades. Haden Kirkpatrick, Esurance's Head of Strategy and Innovation predicts we'll see a 25- to 30-year "muddy middle," as we balance the presence of robot- and human-driven cars on the same roads.

Equally interesting to consider in this equation, as Kirkpatrick notes, is what self-driving cars will mean for the car insurance industry.

Consider this: The world's first car accident occurred in 1891, but the world's first car insurance policy wasn't written until 1897. That means for 6 doubtlessly crazy years, people were driving in their fancy new horseless carriages without a drop of coverage. Compound that with the fact that safety measures like stop signs, right-of-way, and driver training had not yet been invented, and you can begin to imagine the chaos of a world before car insurance.

Since the first policy was sold 121 years ago, car insurance has evolved from simple handwritten contracts to the high-tech global industry that it is today.

And just like the transition to "horseless" drove considerable changes in the early 20th century, the transition to "driverless" will likely mean big changes once again. Only this time, instead of creating the need for more personal insurance, the move to autonomous vehicles is set to drive the need for more commercial insurance as car manufacturers assume much of the risk for this new tech.

"It's doubtful that consumers are thinking about how AVs might change their car insurance needs at this point," says Kirkpatrick, "but the industry at large is already scoping for this transition and considering the best ways to evolve as Americans become even more mobile."

Research Methodology

Esurance conducted an online survey in December 2017 through January 2018 of 1,057 U.S. vehicle owners, a portion of which included semi-autonomous driver override systems (lane keep, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control).

Twitter data was gathered from February 17, 2018 through April 7, 2018. The analysis spanned a sample of 396,758 English-language posts.

How Self-Driving Cars May Save You Money

Driverless cars may be a windfall, if you're willing to make tradeoffs.

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