“You better hurry up, it’s going to escape … I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.”
Those were the words of Joel Johnson, an employee of technology company Waymo, as he sat in the backseat of a driverless car during a recent test of the company’s self-driving technology. During the journey, which was all captured on video, the car became stranded at one point before surprisingly driving away as a roadside technician approached. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., which owns Google, is one of the largest players in the self-driving field, so such a botched test is significant.
The unexpected eventfulness of the Waymo test underscores the concerns the American public have with autonomous vehicles. AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey found that just 14% of drivers would trust riding in a self-driving vehicle, while 86% either said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle (54%) or are unsure about it (32%).
But there’s a second aspect of self-driving vehicles that has drivers concerned: sharing the road with them. According to another AAA survey, produced in collaboration with the Technology and Public Purpose Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, roughly half of all drivers felt less safe being on the road with a self-driving car.
But this scenario is happening more and more. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia have active programs allowing self-driving test vehicles to operate on public roads. While some are highly publicized, others are not as heavily promoted. Researchers at AAA and Harvard found that only 35% of U.S. drivers know that some states allow self-driving test vehicles on public roads.
In the same survey, drivers said they would feel safer if there were clear marking that indicated the vehicle is self-driving, as well as designated lanes for such vehicles.
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