Trusting Autonomous Vehicles
Sun, April 18, 2021

Trusting Autonomous Vehicles

The Silicon Valley race is on to make autonomous vehicles (AVs) feasible as tech giants, startups, and veteran automotive partners are working hard to “get miles under their belt,” but public distrust hinders their self-driving cars from reaching their top speed / Photo by: Grendelkhan via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Silicon Valley race is on to make autonomous vehicles (AVs) feasible as tech giants, startups, and veteran automotive partners are working hard to “get miles under their belt,” but public distrust hinders their self-driving cars from reaching their top speed, wrote Louis Stewart, Moh Musa, and Nicola Croce of non-profit organization World Economic Forum. It doesn’t matter if we reach full Level 5 autonomy if people are afraid to ride in autonomous vehicles on a public road, wrote Chris Witz of Design News, a monthly American trade publication. 

“Autonomous driving is a complex socio-technical innovation” as it has the potential to create an impact on our economy and society, said the World Economic Forum. The benefits of self-driving cars include a drastic reduction of accidents, deaths, and injuries, as well as traffic congestion and pollution. Autonomous vehicles also give access to mobility to disabled people and minorities and bolster the economy. But for now, public distrust on this technology prevents people from enjoying its benefits.  

Gaining The Public’s Trust Is Complex

The general public doesn’t seem to be ready to consume AV technology. Half of Americans think self-driving cars are more dangerous than those driven by humans, while two-thirds said they would not purchase an autonomous vehicle, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, as cited by World Economic Forum. Paul A. Eisenstein of business and financial news portal CNBC said that 15% of the American public doesn’t believe there will be self-driving cars in the market, while 42% admitted they would not ride in a fully automative one. 

In a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association, a federation of motor clubs in North America, 71% of Americans claim to be scared of riding in an autonomous vehicle, up from 63% in 2017. What we can glean from the statistics is that the AV industry is moving way too fast. The industry has had its setbacks such as Uber’s self-driving car accident in 2018, tainting the public’s opinion on AV technology. 

How can we earn people’s trust? The answer is going to be complex and multifaceted. Design plays a major role in gaining the public’s trust. However, embedding trust into design cues, software features, and human-machine interaction is a challenge for AV developers as these require careful consideration. While developers can tweak the design of current advanced driver-assistance systems, the impact of the design on trust will be more relevant once self-driving cars are deployed at scale. 

It’s important for us to take action to remove any stumbling blocks that hinder the full adoption of AVs. Distrust is not only detrimental to the AV industry but it can also influence regulators to impose restrictions, stifling innovation. 

Education Is Power

AV Technology can be accepted through education and awareness. The AV industry must invest in educating the public, politicians, and legislators about the potential, advantages, and limitations of self-driving cars. The industry has established organizations such as the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets and Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE). The organization hosts members from AV technology and development startups, including private firms like Auto X and AV software technology company Deepen AI. 

Its mission is to make the public accept AV technology through education and clarity of information. Co-chair Kelly Nantel said, “We believe that if folks know the facts, it’s far more likely that we will fully realize the capability of these technologies to build a better transportation system.” 

AV Technology can be accepted through education and awareness. The AV industry must invest in educating the public, politicians, and legislators about the potential, advantages, and limitations of self-driving cars / Photo by: Kate Volkova via Wikimedia Commons

 

Shared and Clear Terminology 

Developing simple and easy to understand language should aid in understanding the varying levels of AV technology and its safety systems. There are vehicles from companies that feature “self-driving” or “autonomous” capabilities, but they all have safety drivers and engineers who oversee the vehicle’s operations. Many of them are part of a ride-hailing or goods-delivery service and they won’t be available to the public in the near term. 

There are AVs that are now on sale and feature Level 2 Automation. This refers to vehicles that have advanced ADAS systems “capable of highway lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control,” requiring the driver to stay vigilant. These types of vehicles are not to be confused with Level 4 and 5. It is dangerous to use terms like “driverless,” “self-driving,” “automated,” “autonomous,” and “autopilot” to refer to cars available for sale to the public. Besides, creating an inaccurate picture of their capabilities puts drivers and other users at risk. 

This “marketing” trend must be changed to prevent the public from misunderstanding terminologies. People should understand the capabilities and limitations of the technologies present in their cars. Their understanding should not be clouded with catchy phrases and appealing trademarks. 

Underrepresented Communities In the Driver’s Seat 

People from underrepresented communities should be given the chance to test out self-driving vehicles, as they are typically the least involved when it comes to these technologies. After all, the benefits of autonomous vehicles can have a profound impact on the elderly, people with handicaps, or those that come from low-income areas. 

What if people don’t trust autonomous cars because of their fear of the unknown? It’s a given that AVs are still in their infancy and some people may not be aware of the AV technology. Hence, the solution here is transparency and education to hopefully earn the trust of the public— from grassroots communities to policymakers.