Report: American Drivers Prefer Their Own Cars, Wary of Autonomous Driving

Owning a car is the most important form of transportation for U.S. residents, according to the sixth edition of Continental’s Mobility Study. Continental has its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills and is based in Germany.
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driver using new technology
The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened Americans’ desire to drive their own cars. Drivers in the U.S. are still wary of autonomous vehicles but enthusiastic about the latest in-vehicle technology. // Image courtesy of Continental

Owning a car is the most important form of transportation for U.S. residents, according to the sixth edition of Continental’s Mobility Study. Continental has its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills and is based in Germany.

The majority of U.S. respondents are “traditional” drivers: they prefer to be in control of their own car, according to the study. The majority of respondents have reservations about fully automated driving.

“While the results of the Mobility Study are not necessarily new findings, the attitude toward private car ownership has seemingly strengthened in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” says Robert Lee, president of Continental North America. “In fact, there has been a clear international trend toward private transportation. While it’s growing more prevalent across the world, the U.S. has a particular affinity for traditional driving.”

The study surveyed drivers and non-drivers in the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, and China. Of U.S. respondents, 77 percent like to be in the driver’s seat when riding in a vehicle, the second highest total of all countries surveyed. Owning a car is also particularly important in the U.S.; 88 percent of respondents say they prefer to have their own car to drive.

“Traditional driving doesn’t mean that drivers don’t want technology in their vehicles,” says Lee. “We actually see that many drivers want to have new, emerging technology in the car, they just don’t want to relinquish control of their vehicle to it. Many people simply aren’t ready for fully automated driving yet. However, a building block approach can help them get there, allowing drivers to get comfortable with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and experience its lifesaving potential in phases.”

The number of skeptics who think automated driving will never work properly has reduced from 75 percent in 2018 to 52 percent in 2020. About 46 percent of U.S. respondents say they prefer the latest technology in their vehicle, while 32 percent say they are eagerly awaiting automated driving features, a slight increase from 2018. Respondents’ belief that automated driving can help prevent vehicle crashes, however, continues to hover around 50 percent.

“We are encouraged to see a large drop in those who are concerned about automated driving reliability,” Lee says. “Most drivers increasingly see the value of safety systems like ADAS; however, in the U.S., they are still slow to accept the idea of a fully automated system. We believe there are a number of reasons for this. One major factor is a lack of understanding of how ADAS or automated technology works, which can lead to confusion about the benefits and — equally important — limitations of such features. We are committed to helping address this.”

Continental works to educate the public about the benefits of advanced vehicle safety technology.

One of the biggest advantages to assisted and automated driving is a reduction in traffic crashes. Today, choices made behind the wheel account for 94 percent of all traffic crashes. Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation, which can help protect all road users. According to a study by the AAA Foundation, large-scale deployment of existing ADAS could prevent 29 percent of deaths and about 40 percent of all passenger-vehicle crashes.

The study is designed to gain insights into international feelings on key mobility trends, including automated driving and electric mobility. The 2020 edition took place in two stages with different emphases. The first stage was completed in September 2020 with a focus on electric mobility. Continental partners with the market and social research institute Infas to conduct the survey.

More information on the most recent study as well as past surveys can be found here.

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