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Old habits die hard: New study shows we still love taking the wheel

According to the latest University of Michigan transport study, it'll be a while before self-driving tech takes hold.

Autonomous or semi-autonomous cars are closer than ever to looking like their standard counterparts, but looks alone won't convince the public.


If there's one thing I can rely on in the automotive industry, it's good insight from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Whether it's fuel-economy tracking or weighing vehicle efficiencies, this team knows its stuff. Now, the group is out with another study, this time tracking consumer sentiment relating to self-driving cars.

UMTRI polled licensed drivers 18 years or older using online survey site SurveyMonkey. 618 respondents are included in this study (you can find the abstract here), which is a new wave of a study that started in 2015.

Similar to other studies, UMTRI's findings show that acceptance of vehicle automation drops with age, but is largely unchanged when comparing by gender. On the whole, folks are more concerned about driving in an entirely automated vehicle than one that offers just partial automation. Being able to take control is nice, isn't it?

Speaking of that sentiment, the study also found that 94.5 percent of respondents wanted a wheel and pedals in the car, no matter what level of automation was available. In the event that a partially-autonomous vehicle requires human intervention, the majority of those polled want as many alarms as possible, including vibration, audio and visual warnings.

The general pattern of choices is largely unchanged since 2015, which isn't that surprising to me. While it's nice to see Tesla's Autopilot and similar systems making waves with tech-savvy buyers, the news is still lousy with stories about accidents and other mishaps with this same technology. To quote a marketing major, the optics aren't all that great.

While there's no doubt that self-driving cars will save the human race from a great deal of death and injury, we meatbags are set in our ways, and having control is something that will be hard to part with. Give the study another five years, and maybe we'll start to see some shifts, at least in younger age segments.

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