Press Release on New Opinion Poll on Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

  • February 10, 2020
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, February 10, 2020
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / / 202-408-1711 / 301-442-2249 (C)

New Opinion Poll Finds Overwhelming Majorities Are Concerned About Driverless Car Safety And Want Commonsense Safeguards

The results of a new opinion poll released today reveal a public with serious apprehensions about driverless car safety and highly supportive of rules and protections for this developing technology.  Commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), ENGINE’S CARAVAN SURVEY of more than 2,000 adults found that 85 percent of respondents are concerned about sharing the road with a driverless car as a motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian.  At a time when autonomous vehicle (AV) manufacturers are pushing for federal legislation to allow them to sell driverless cars exempt from current federal safety standards, this new polling data should serve as an urgent warning that elected officials should prioritize safety over corporate profit.

Advocates’ President Cathy Chase said, “Americans are loud and clear in their message to lawmakers about driverless cars.  They strongly object to being unknowing, unwilling and unsuspecting test subjects in a risky experiment that has already proven to be deadly and dangerous.  Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should heed the pulse of the public and establish necessary safety standards for driverless cars.  A lack of safeguards will endanger the safe rollout and public acceptance of innovative technology that holds the promise of significantly reducing the immense motor vehicle crash fatality and injury toll.”

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce said,  “The poll released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety makes one thing crystal clear – we must have meaningful rules of the road for automated vehicles or these potentially life-saving technologies will not be publicly accepted.  NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] should take a hands-on approach to self-driving car technology, proactively adopting standards and safeguards that ensure the autonomous vehicle era is our safest yet.”

While NHTSA has consistently taken a hands-off approach to “hands-free driving” by issuing weak, non-binding voluntary guidelines, 71 percent of those surveyed in the new poll said they support the development of minimum safety requirements for new technologies relating to the operation of driverless cars.  Notably, 68 percent of those surveyed said knowing companies had to meet minimum safety requirements for their driverless cars before selling them to the public would address their trepidations.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) needs to be the ‘cop on the beat’ to protect motorists and all road users as new technologies are rolled out,” said Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator and President Emeritus of Public Citizen.  “In recent years, the Agency has been ‘asleep behind the wheel.’  Advocates’ new poll shows that the public expects government officials to be looking out for their safety.  Green-lighting unproven technology without appropriate rules while gutting current lifesaving protections is a recipe for disaster on our roadways.”

Support for specific rules was also consistent.  Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) support cybersecurity protections in driverless cars to prevent against hacking.  Further, 76 percent of respondents said driverless cars should be required to pass a “vision test” to ensure the vehicle can “see” and properly respond to all participants and aspects of the operating environment.  “Americans are united: automated vehicles should be able to pass a basic ‘vision test’, just like we expect of human drivers, before they begin sharing our roads,” said Bill Nesper, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists.  “Pedestrians and bicyclists are dying at the highest numbers in decades and Congress must make sure that automated vehicles will be safe for everyone inside and outside out them.”

“The public is clearly and understandably anxious about safety experts in the government taking a hands-off regulatory approach that will allow more deadly mistakes to happen while allowing industry to intentionally keep the public in the dark. But the data also show that Congress and the AV industry could build public trust through more transparency, more accountability, and stringent standards for safety,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America. “Congress has been so excited about helping to deploy new automated vehicle technology that they have forgotten that rushing AVs to market without building public trust and support is more likely to jeopardize the viability of this industry.”

Today, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg posted a compelling blog, “Automation Complacency: Yet Another Distraction Problem,” which expresses concerns about over-reliance on semi-autonomous vehicles and associated distractions.  “The companies testing automated vehicles on public roads, the states where these vehicles are tested, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must work to prevent this emerging form of distraction from increasing and placing roadway users at increased risk, particularly vulnerable users such as bicyclists and pedestrians.  Now is the time to get ahead of the problem.”

The ENGINE CARAVAN SURVEY also found broad concern (63 percent) about allowing auto and tech companies to each sell as many as 100,000 vehicles equipped with driverless technologies that do not meet existing federal safety standards.  Belying public sentiment, AV manufacturers continue to push Congress to dramatically expand exemptions from critical federal safety rules.  Legislative proposals to date would essentially open the floodgates to potentially millions of exempt vehicles being sold to the public.

“The results from the latest Advocates’ survey on consumer attitudes about the introduction of autonomous vehicles makes it clear that Congressional action directing safety regulations is needed,” said Jack Gillis, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America.  He continued, “Consumers are fearful and want regulatory standards implemented before the widespread introduction of AVs.  Not to do so will deny the public of the benefits of this potentially life-saving technology.”

As the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce prepares for its hearing tomorrow, “Autonomous Vehicles: Promises And Challenges Of Evolving Automotive Technologies,” Advocates urges Members to examine these telling poll results as it will be the public that will be profoundly impacted for decades to come by their policy actions.