While vehicular autonomy is still in its infancy and eons away from becoming a ubiquitous facet of everyday life, it’s no secret that the American public has a lot of reservations regarding trustworthiness when it comes to riding and sharing the roads with driverless cars. A little over one year ago, I published a piece that highlighted the level of distrust American drivers have in the current quality of safety and operational functionality of autonomous vehicles. The piece I published noted how (at the time one year ago), nearly three-quarters of U.S. drivers viewed autonomous vehicles as unsafe, a sentiment that I backed with data showing how improvements in vehicular autonomy safety did not make a significant leap between 2016 and 2017.

Over a year ago, AAA began conducting an annual study of its own to document U.S. consumer attitudes toward autonomous vehicles. AAA’s study wanted to answer four major questions…

  1. Are U.S. drivers comfortable with the idea of riding in a self-driving car?
  2. Are U.S. drivers comfortable with the idea of sharing the road with a self-driving car?
  3. Do U.S. drivers want semi-autonomous technologies in their next vehicle?
  4. How confident are U.S. drivers in their driving abilities?

The study yielded some interesting results, and while the findings showed that the majority of Americans are still apprehensive about self-driving vehicles, that stance has lightened slightly over the past year. One of the key takeaways from the study was how 63 percent of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle. While this statistic translates to over two-thirds of U.S. drivers saying they’re still afraid of riding in an autonomous vehicle, this number is significantly lower than one year ago at this time from 78 percent (and the 74 percent in the piece I published).

Among the other notable statistics yielded from the study, 28 percent of U.S. drivers surveyed said they would trust a self-driving car, while nine percent were unsure. In addition, drivers from older generations like Baby Boomers (68 percent) and Generation X (70 percent) felt far less comfortable riding in an autonomous vehicle, whereas Millennial drivers (49 percent) seemed more open to the idea. 46 percent of U.S. drivers reported they would fell less safe sharing the road with fully self-driving vehicles while driving a regular car, while 13 percent said they would feel safer.

While the report indicated an overwhelming majority of U.S. drivers still don’t feel comfortable enough to ride or share the roads with autonomous cars, the highlight statistic is how the distrust in these vehicles has dropped by 10-15 percent in the past year, along with drivers from younger generations appearing more susceptible to the incorporation of vehicular autonomy in modern society. What’s especially encouraging about this statistic is the possibility that we could see autonomous cars earn the trust of more drivers over the next year at this current pace. While the report didn’t cite any particular reasons behind the drop in untrustworthiness, this can mostly be attributed towards the industry’s technological and design improvements to these vehicles that should only continue to get better over the next 12 months.