Last summer, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted research on automated vehicles. The study was aimed at determining how to design automated cars. Instead of using a driverless vehicle, however, researchers took to the streets of suburban Washington D.C. in a gray van with a driver…dressed in a car-seat costume. So, at first glance the car appeared to be driverless though there was a driver behind the wheel controlling and monitoring the vehicle the whole time.
If one of the goals of the study was to freak out locals, mission accomplished. According to local news outlets, Arlington, VA residents began reporting the silver van and wanting to know what was going on. Not surprising as a AAA poll from last year showed that 78 percent of Americans were afraid of self-driving vehicles.
However, those numbers are going down. In a study released in January of this year, however, the number of people willing to admit they were afraid of self-driving cars had dropped 15 points to 63 percent. Americans are slowly beginning to warm up to self-driving cars. For the third year, AAA polled the U.S. population on the subject of autonomous cars and this is the first year the results show a significant decrease in levels of discomfort.
According to a report by CNN, AAA’s Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, Greg Brannon, is positive on the change. “It’s great to see the easing of fears,” Brannon said. “The reality is consumers need to not be afraid of these technologies because they hold the promise to save lives.” The claim that autonomous vehicles will save lives has been made by numerous studies and publications including RAND Corporation, The Atlantic, and Science Man/Astrology Rock Star, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Along the same lines, Waymo, the sister company in charge of Google’s autonomous vehicle fleet, launched a campaign last year entitled “Let’s Talk Self-Driving” in order to educate the public about the vehicles. Despite that “youth counselor sitting in a backwards chair” vibe, public education is always a good thing. As the old NBC public service announcements said: The more you know.
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