AAA Study Finds Consumer Skepticism Toward Autonomous Driving Features Justified

In January 2022, AAA surveyed 1,107 people to gauge their general trust level in self-driving vehicles. All participants were U.S. adults 18 years or older. Using a probability-based panel, the sample coverage represents roughly 97 percent of the U.S. household population. According to AAA’s report, the study’s margin of error is four percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Most said they preferred automakers improve current ADAS features instead of developing self-driving cars, which follows the tone of other similar studies and observations.  

How Consumers View ADAS

This way of thinking is not without merit; the research shows vast room for improvement in Level 2 autonomy. Since 2018, AAA has tested ADAS features in various closed-course and naturalistic scenarios. In its third round of testing against potential crashes, AAA found that ADAS safety measures did not engage consistently and often resulted in a collision. 

“You can’t sell consumers on the future if they don’t trust the present,” said Greg Brannon, AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “And drivers tell us they expect their current driving assistance technology to perform all the time safely. But unfortunately, our testing demonstrates spotty performance is the norm rather than the exception.”

A majority of those surveyed in January 2022 displayed general distrust or misunderstanding of autonomous technology. About 85 percent reported that they are fearful or unsure of self-driving technology. Another 85 percent claimed they would not be comfortable trusting a fully autonomous vehicle to transport their loved ones. In the study, 12 percent assumed they could purchase a fully autonomous vehicle now, while 53 percent admitted they were unsure. When told to choose between a self-driving car or improved ADAS features, 77 percent trended towards automakers improving vehicle safety systems.

Improved ADAS Functionality Is Necessary

On three separate occasions to date, AAA has tested Level 2 driver assistance features. In August 2020, AAA looked at how today’s systems react during common driving scenarios. The results were less than desirable, given the widespread availability of Level 2 systems today. AAA ultimately concluded that current ADAS features are more likely to interfere than help with driving.   

“AAA has repeatedly found that active driving assistance systems do not perform consistently, especially in real-world scenarios,” Brannon said at the time. “Manufacturers need to work toward more dependable technology, including improving lane-keeping assistance and providing more adequate alerts.”

The most recent tests took place on a closed course at AAA and Utah’s GoMentum Station proving ground in California. A foam car (similar to a small hatchback) and a bicyclist dummy were used. Vehicles tested included a 2021 Subaru Forester with EyeSight, a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe with Highway Driving Assist, and a 2020 Tesla Model 3 with Autopilot. The results were similar to what AAA found in 2020.

A head-on collision occurred during all 15 test runs for an oncoming vehicle within the travel lane. Only one test vehicle significantly reduced speed before a crash on each run. In the other scenario, when a cyclist crossed the lane in front of the test vehicle, a collision occurred five out of 15 times.

In more routine situations, the driver assistance features engaged helpfully. When the test changed to a slow lead vehicle going in the same direction in the lane ahead, no crashes occurred during the 15 test runs. In another test, when a cyclist traveled in the same direction in the lane in front of the test vehicle, it slowed automatically. Zero accidents occurred during the 15 test runs.

Moving Forward

According to AAA, drivers gravitate toward familiar features they view as designed for safety. However, this most recent AAA study shows how these systems are far from fully autonomous despite drivers’ misconceptions. AAA continues to call for direct driver monitoring systems to keep drivers focused on the road. 

“While it may be encouraging that these driving systems successfully spotted slow-moving cars and bicyclists in the same lane, the failure to spot a crossing bike rider or an oncoming vehicle is alarming,” Brannon said. “A head-on crash is the deadliest kind, and these systems should be optimized for the situations where they can help the most.”

The full report from AAA, Consumer Skepticism Toward Autonomous Driving Features Justified, is available as a PDF download