The promise of self-driving vehicles has brought with it high expectations and enthusiasm. But, we might not be quite ready to hand over the wheel.

Today, the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute released the results of a study on public opinion related to self-driving vehicles. According to its authors - Brandon Schoettle and Dr. Michael Sivak – the research included a survey of individuals in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, China, India and Japan. Overall, the survey revealed widespread enthusiasm for self-driving cars. But, concerns still exist.

A positive initial reaction (except in Japan?)

Across the six countries, Schoettle and Sivak report evidence of widespread enthusiasm (except, perhaps in Japan). According to the authors “The majority of respondents had previously heard of autonomous of self-driving vehicles, has a positive initial opinion of the technology (or neutral in the case of Japan), and had high expectations about the benefits of the technology.” Furthermore, the “majority of respondents expressed a desire to have this technology in their vehicles.”

Some notable differences existed between countries – with respondents in China and India being a bit more positive about the technology’s promise, their desire to have access to it, and their willingness to pay for it.

In contrast, respondents from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Japan were generally unwilling to pay extra for self-driving technology at this time.

But, concerns abound

Of those surveyed, “the majority… expressed high levels of concern about riding in self-driving vehicles, safety issues related to equipment or system failure, and self-driving vehicles not performing as well as human drivers. Respondents also expressed high levels of concern about vehicles without driver controls; self-driving vehicles moving while unoccupied; and self-driving commercial vehicles, buses, and taxis.”

These safety concerns are an interesting contrast to General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s comments last month regarding GM’s plan to add “hands-free and feet-free” driving capabilities to some the their 2017 models. In her announcement, Barra cited safety as a major factor in GM’s decision to push ahead with automated driving technology. The “estimated the economic and societal impact of car crashes in the U.S. is more than $870 billion a year,” she said.

According to Schoettle and Sivak, the concerns of their survey respondents did not appear to outweigh the positive feelings and “optimistic expectations of the benefits” of self-driving cars. But, those surveyed might not be quite willing to let go of the wheel (yet).

Reference: Sivak, Michael and Brandon Scoettle. Public Opinion About Self-Driving Vehciles in China, India, Japan, The U.S., The U.K., and Australia. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Ann Arbor, Michigan. USA. Report No. UMTRI-2014-30. October 2014.

Photo Credit: Photo of Google self-driving Lexus by Steve Jurvetson (derivative work by Mariordo)