In future of travel, tech skeptics feel safer in ‘flying cars’ than in self-driving cars

If the ‘future was now,’ travelers would feel safer either on a rocket to space, soaring at supersonic speeds, driving a flying car, or floating on a magnetic levitation train than being in a self-driving or autonomous vehicle.

A study we conducted on behalf of travel insurance client, Allianz Global Assistance, showed that as the future of travel quickly approaches with experimental transport technology accelerating at a rapid pace, the vacation vehicle of tomorrow that is closest to reality today — the self-driving car — is among the most concerning for potential travelers worried for their safety.

If given the opportunity to use any of the current, experimental, or near-future methods of travel today, most Americans are at least somewhat interested in experiencing nearly all the new ways to explore the world, or even the space beyond it. But only 22 percent of travelers are very interested (and 32 percent ”somewhat” interested) in self-driving vehicles being developed by all the major auto manufacturers and Silicon Valley companies like Google, Uber and Tesla, with 65 percent of those not interested due to “safety concerns.”

Self-driving/autonomous vehicles rate lowest for travelers “very interested” and highest for “safety concerns” among those not interested when compared to all other future travel methods surveyed, including space travel, supersonic travel, Hyperloop high-speed rail, and even so-called flying cars.

Based on our analysis with polling firm Ipsos, which conducted the survey between May 3rd to May 5th, 2017, we’re seeing that many Americans are not yet fully confident enough in the safety of that new technology when it’s applied to current-day infrastructure like roads and highways.

Skeptics are more concerned about introducing new technology to the masses, like the artificial intelligence behind self-driving vehicles, versus making existing technology like space travel and supersonic airplanes more widespread and available for consumers.

While the current outlook for traveler uptake of self-driving vehicles is uncertain, the future is brighter with 64 percent of travelers confident that this travel method will develop safely enough for them to consider using, which, along with Hyperloop high-speed rail (64 percent), is well above the confidence for the safety of supersonic travel (56 percent), space travel (51 percent) or flying cars (49 percent). In total, however, only a minority are “very confident” about the safety of any of these travel methods being safe enough for mainstream consumer use.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Raj Rajkumar, who has earned global recognition for autonomous vehicle research and is also the co-director of the GM-CMU Connected and Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Laborator, said it’s rational for the public to be concerned about self-driving vehicle safety today if they have to give up complete control over the driving process.

“Self-driving vehicle technology is still not fully mature, and many real-world scenarios including bad weather conditions and dense urban traffic with lots of pedestrians cannot always be handled correctly,” Prof. Rajkumar said.

“Hence, in the near term, the human would still have to play a supervisory role as with today’s advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind zone alert, and cross-traffic alerts.

“However, self-driving vehicle technology will mature over the next decade, regulations will fall into place and there will be a lot more empirical evidence about the safety of the technology. Crashes then will go down, many fatalities will be prevented, and injuries will be mitigated. This in turn will reshape the large automotive insurance industry.”