Self-driving cars are coming faster than anyone expected just a few years ago. And America, according to a new Vox/Morning Consult poll, isn’t really ready for that.
More Americans say they they’re more worried about the prospect of self-driving cars than excited. They’re afraid that the technology will take jobs away from taxi and truck drivers, and they’re skeptical that the technology will save lives as supporters claim. Overall, just 32 percent believe that self-driving cars will improve the driving experience, compared to 48 percent who don’t think so.
And for all the hype surrounding ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, the vast majority of Americans say they never use them. Most of those who don’t use the services say it’s easier to just drive their own cars.
The survey also reveals a massive age gap in attitudes about these emerging transportation technologies. Americans over 65 are way less likely to have used ride-hailing services, and they’re particularly skeptical about the potential benefits of self-driving technology.
Millennials were the most positive about both ride-hailing services and self-driving cars — and they’re even open to the idea of banning human-driven cars if self-driving vehicles prove to be safer.
The public is skeptical about the benefits of self-driving cars
Many experts, pundits, and elected officials are enthusiastic about the potential of cars that drive themselves. A big reason for this is safety: Car crashes cost nearly 40,000 lives per year, making it a leading killer of young people. And many of these accidents occur because a driver is tired, distracted, or intoxicated.
So if we can create cars that drive as well as the average alert, sober driver, it would save thousands of lives every year. And technologists hope to do even better than that, drastically reducing the annual death toll from car crashes.
But we’re far from reaching that goal, and right now the public is skeptical we’ll get there.
Only 35 percent of Americans agree that self-driving cars will "reduce accidents and auto-related fatalities" — 13 percent agree strongly, while another 13 percent say they "somewhat agree." On the other hand, 46 percent predict that self-driving cars will not reduce accidents and fatalities — with 23 percent holding that view strongly.
Experts disagree about how self-driving cars will affect traffic. Some predict that they’ll improve traffic by allowing cars to use the roads more efficiently and enabling more carpooling. But others predict that if commuting becomes more pleasant, the roads will become even more crowded.
Most Americans predict that self-driving technology will make traffic problems worse, not better. Only 25 percent of respondents say that self-driving cars will reduce traffic, compared to 54 percent who say it won’t (including 29 percent who felt strongly about the subject).
Finally, Americans are concerned about the economic consequences of self-driving technology. 53 percent of respondents predict that self-driving cars will take away jobs from professional taxi and truck drivers, compared to just 29 percent of Americans who say that won’t happen.
So will self-driving cars improve the overall driving experience? Just 31 percent say it will, compared to 48 percent who say no. And most Americans don’t expect to ride in a self-driving car any time soon. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they were not too likely or not at all likely to ride in a self-driving car in the next 10 years. An even larger 61 percent say they are unlikely to use an Uber-style self-driving car service if it becomes available in their area.
Most people never use a ride-hailing service
Self-driving cars are one technology that could disrupt the car industry over the next decade. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are another. Given how much attention Uber and Lyft get in national media publications like Vox, you might think these services have become ubiquitous in American life.
But that’s wrong. We asked people, "on average, about how often do you use ride-sharing applications on your smartphone such as Uber and Lyft?" A whopping 78 percent of people say they never use a ride-hailing service. Another 9 percent use the service less than once a month. For comparison, 65 percent of respondents say they never use a taxi, and another 21 percent use a taxi less than once a month.
Of those who never use a ride-hailing service, 52 percent say that it’s because it’s easier to just drive the car they already have. Most of the rest either say that the service isn’t available in their area — 15 percent — or that they aren’t familiar with the service or don’t know anyone who uses it — 12 percent. Respondents say that cost isn’t a significant factor: Just 4 percent say they avoid using ride-hailing services because they’re too expensive.
Older Americans are way more skeptical of new car technologies
Taken as a whole, the public is moderately skeptical of self-driving cars and most never use ride-hailing services. But when you break things down by age, the picture becomes more polarized, with older voters — unsurprisingly — much less interested in these new technologies.
A slight majority of adults under 30 are excited by the future of self-driving cars, compared to 40 percent who are worried. The attitudes of those over 65 are very different: just 19 percent say they’re excited about self-driving cars, while 71 percent are worried.
Among those under 30, 47 percent predict that self-driving cars will save lives, while 40 percent are skeptical. Among those over 65, only 24 percent say self-driving cars will be life-saving, compared with 49 percent who disagree.
Those under 30 are about equally split on whether self-driving cars will reduce traffic problems, while those under 65 believe overwhelmingly — 58 percent to 14 percent — that they will make traffic problems worse.
Overall, 48 percent of those under 30 think self-driving cars will improve the driving experience, compared to just 21 percent of those over 65 who think that.
A massive 96 percent of those over 65 say they never use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, and fewer than 1 percent use these services at least once a week. In contrast, only 55 percent of those under 30 say they never use Uber or Lyft, while 11 percent use ride-hailing services weekly.
If self-driving cars become widely available, we can expect to see the same pattern repeat itself. Forty-four percent of those under 30 say they’d be likely to use an Uber-like self-driving car service if it became available in their area, while just 13 percent of those over 65 expressed an interest in such a service.
Among those under 30, 42 percent said they were ready to give up their car if self-driving technology made ride-hailing as cheap as owning a car. Hardly any people over 65 were prepared to make that leap — just 9 percent say they're likely to go car-free, whereas 79 percent say they're unlikely to do so.
There were also differences — though less extreme ones — among other demographic groups. Unsurprisingly, people in urban areas were more ready to give up their cars than those in suburban and rural areas.
Men are more optimistic about self-driving cars than women, with 37 percent of men saying they’ll improve the overall driving experience compared to 28 percent of women. Liberals are more optimistic about self-driving cars than conservatives. Black and Hispanic people were more optimistic than whites — though that may largely reflect the fact that whites are older, on average.
Millennials are open to banning human drivers
Over the next decade, there will be a big debate over whether — and how — to allow self-driving cars onto public roads. But if self-driving technology saves as many lives as its supporters hope, we could eventually have a different debate: whether to allow people to drive their own cars at all.
Obviously, this isn’t an issue anyone needs to decide on this year — or even this decade — but we thought it would be interesting to see what people thought about it.
We asked people, "if self-driving cars are shown to be safer than cars driven by humans, would you support or oppose a ban on humans driving cars?"
30 percent of the population said they would support such a law, while 54 percent of the population opposed it. A slight plurality of those under 30 said they would favor a ban, 43 percent to 42 percent. In contrast, those over 65 were opposed by a wide margin, 58 percent to 22 percent.