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Americans are becoming more, not less, fearful of self-driving cars

Compared to last year, more people to say they are "too afraid" to ride in an autonomous vehicle.

Jaguar Waymo I-Pace
Public faith in self-driving cars, like this Jaguar I-Pace outfitted by Waymo, has fallen.
Tim Stevens/Roadshow

With all the progress automakers and suppliers are making on sensor technologies and software for self-driving cars, surely the idea of an autonomous vehicle is increasingly appealing to the general public? Not so, says a new study from AAA. In the past 5 months, the number of survey respondents who are "too afraid" to ride in a self-driving car leapt from 63 to 73 percent.

AAA says that big drop in confidence comes after several highly publicized accidents involving self-driving prototypes made headlines. A self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in March. Around the same time, a Tesla Model X believed to be operating in Autopilot mode crashed into a divider on a highway in California

"This technology is relatively new and everyone is watching it closely," said Greg Brannon, AAA's Director of Automotive Engineering. "Our results show that any incident involving an autonomous vehicle is likely to shake consumer trust."

With those high-profile cases in the news, customer confidence in the new tech is down. Only 20 percent of survey respondents told AAA they would trust a self-driving car, and 63 percent said they'd feel less safe as a pedestrian or cyclist if self-driving cars were on the road with them. Before those aforementioned accidents, when AAA surveyed the public in December 2017, it found that 28 percent of people would trust an autonomous vehicle.

Despite fears about fully autonomous vehicles, 55 percent of respondents said they want semi-autonomous technologies in their next car. For AAA's survey, those are defined as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and self parking -- all features available on many new cars today.