Self-Driving Trucks Are Here, But People May Not be Ready

Self-Driving Truck

The promise of self-driving cars should seem like a dream come true for many drivers. After all, owning a self-driving car should sound like an incredible experience, making travel more convenient, reducing traffic and making a commute much more leisurely. In fact, the number of companies putting millions of dollars into the development of the technology behind self-driving vehicles indicates that a lot  of experts are convinced of the viability and public acceptance of cars that drive themselves. Likewise, investors seem to be bullish on self-driving vehicles, to the point that one company, Zoox, recently raised at least $800 million and has been valued at more than $3.2 billion.

Are Texans Ready for Vehicles Without Drivers? Maybe Not.

However, a recent poll should give everyone pause. According to that survey, which asked 2,586 people how they felt about seeing their commute dominated by vehicles with no drivers, most Americans are nt in line with the so-called experts. Poll respondents didn’t seem excited about self-driving cars, given that 65 percent of respondents said they were not likely to purchase a self-driving car, in the first place. Only six percent said it was “extremely likely” they would do so.

There are reasons for the lack of excitement over self-driving cars among consumers in general,  and according to this poll, that reason is safety. When respondents were asked how safe they would feel as a passenger in a self-driving car, only 3 percent responded,  “very safe,” while only 25 percent said they would feel “somewhat safe.” That means less than one-third of respondents would feel safe in a car that drove itself. And the number of people who said they would feel comfortable around self-driving cars as a pedestrian were far lower than that. Put simply, it is clear from this poll that most people refuse to trust the claimed safety of self-driving vehicles as a major component of roadway traffic.

Their skepticism may have to do with the evidence that the government has chosen to take a hands-off approach to self-driving cars. As of now, such cars face little to no federal regulation and oversight. In fact, recently, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said, “We don’t know how to pick the best technology or to pick the winners. We’re not in the business of picking winners or losers. The market will decide what is the most effective solution.”

Not surprisingly, Americans fall in line with their political party when it comes to further regulation of self-driving vehicles, with 37% of Republicans claiming current regulations are strict enough and 38% of Democrats calling for more regulation and improvements to safety.

Poll Shows Americans Skeptical of Safety of Self-Driving Cars

So far, the poll suggests that most Americans are in favor of government regulation and are not at all skittish about regulations involving self-driving vehicles. Even those who were uncomfortable with the very idea of being around a self-driving car were okay with increased government safety regulations, declaring them “safe enough.” Most respondents believe that the lack of government regulations provides self-driving vehicles= manufacturers with ample opportunity to build for themselves a reputation for safety. As a result, many of them say taking the lead on safety and security will give them an opportunity to stand out and to gain a higher level of trust.

In a society where nearly everyone has been exposed to auto safety ads featuring a slow-motion video of crash test dummies, it is proven that such dynamics wor. At the same time, research from studies like this recent poll show that addressing the safety concerns surrounding autonomous cars will be necessary, in order for companies like Zoox and the Google driverless vehicle initiative, Waymo, to compete with established carmakers like Ford, GM, or even Tesla, in the marketplace.  These companies will also have to overcome the immediate distrust that American consumers tend to harbor about new types of artificial intelligence.

For self-driving cars to win over the American public, they will have to build a lot of trust. That is especially true in a marketplace with almost no government oversight. The best way to do that will be for the car makers manufacturing such vehicles to make them as safe as possible. Given the attitude of the American consumer right now toward self-driving vehicles, manufacturers have an uphill climb to bring forth the high levels of trust consumers have with human-powered cars.

Autonomous Trucks Already Populate Texas Highways

Given the results of this poll, those who manufacture artificial intelligence of all types and for all uses have a steep hill to climb. They have been trying to combat  consumers’ distrust  by producing ad campaigns showing the importance of their technology in everyday life. The manufacturers of self-driving cars will have to do the same, and create marketing campaigns present autonomous cars as a necessary,  safe and stable part of everyday life. Of course, they will also have to make their vehicles safer than previous motor vehicles, which have had to be retrofitted with safety features just to make them as safe as they are now. There is a lot of work to do before self-driving vehicles go mainstream, and become appealing to every consumer.

For self-driving cars to win the trust of the American public and to prove they are worthy of those multi-billion dollar valuations, they will apparently have to build a lot more trust.

Self-driving 18-wheelers are already becoming something of a fixture on Texas highways, and Waymo (again, a division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet). Therefore, Texas drivers will be ahead of the curve when it comes to this technology, and Waymo will be able to prove its tech is safer quite soon. For many freight hauling companies, some, a future with self-driving trucks will lower costs, result in lighter traffic and also fewer accidents. Since about 65,000  trucking companies operating in Texas, time will tell, and Texas will lead the way.

Thus far, there have been no accidents associated with Waymo’s autonomous semi-trucks, although there have been accidents in other parts of the country involving smaller autonomous vehicles. Therefore, federal and state officials will have to monitor the situation and keep Texas roads safe. The future is here and the only question is, will it work in Texas?

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