Study: Public’s AV Knowledge Trails Industry Advancement

According to the redesigned J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index (MCI) Study, a majority of consumers are misinformed on the capabilities of self-driving fully autonomous vehicles, despite the automotive industry’s forward march toward an automated future.
Woman Sitting In Self Driving Modern Car
The 2021 J.D. Power Mobility Confidence Index Study showed most consumers are misinformed regarding autonomous vehicles despite industry advancements. // Stock Photo

According to the redesigned J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index (MCI) Study, a majority of consumers are misinformed on the capabilities of self-driving fully autonomous vehicles, despite the automotive industry’s forward march toward an automated future.

On a scale of autonomous capabilities from the Society of Automotive Engineers, only Levels 4 and Level 5 are considered fully automated self-driving vehicles — the scale ranging from Level 0, or manual operation, to Level 5.

When asked to select one of seven possible descriptions to define this type of vehicle, 37 percent selected Levels 4 and 5. More than half (55 percent) of respondents selected descriptions aligned with driver assist technology currently available in many product offerings.

“This is a ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ moment for the fully automated self-driving vehicle industry,” says Lisa Boor, senior manager of global automotive at J.D. Power. “There is a significant gap between actual and perceived AV knowledge. Right now, consumers don’t know what they don’t know.

“Clear, consistent messaging from industry stakeholders is needed to improve the accuracy of consumer AV knowledge. The industry needs to be the catalyst for educating the public before running into such speed bumps. AV education must expand beyond current, traditional learning methods.”

Those surveyed with higher self-reported knowledge about AVs were less accurate in defining what one was (32 percent), while those who self-reported knowing nothing at all were more accurate in this regard (37 percent).

The study index is based on six unique attributes of consumer comfort AVs. The metric measures consumer readiness for AV technology in several categories: personal vehicles, commercial vehicles, public transit, riding if unable to drive due to age or injury, sharing the road with other AVs, and consumer purchase intent.

This year’s study has been redesigned as an annual offering from J.D. Power, MIT Advanced Vehicle Technology Consortium (MIT AVT), and Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE). By merging the MCI study and the MIT AVT, key metrics are maintained while updating the phrasing and survey terminology.

The study showed consumer interest in AVs increased 10 percentage points from the third quarter 2020 MCI study, with 51 percent now having more general interest due to something they read or heard.

Only 29 percent respondents, however, have actively sought to find information about AVs. The majority, 53 percent, believe the best way to learn about them is to take a driver’s education course geared specifically towards AVs. An even higher portion (58 percent) would complete specialized training for an AV driver’s license, with only 27 percent reporting a desire to learn on their own.

“These results demonstrate the power of knowledge,” says Tara Andringa, executive director of PAVE. “The more people see and learn, the more they want to know. And we can help to quench that thirst for learning by providing clear, hype-free facts and simple, consistent terminology.”

Only 14 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable with fully autonomous vehicles, while 41 percent are comfortable with driver assist technology being as far as vehicle automation goes.

Adding to the challenge is the 19 percent of respondents believe that fully automated self-driving vehicles are available for purchase or lease today—an incorrect belief that is also shared by 16 percent of Tesla owners.

The score for confidence in AVs improved to 42 (on a 100-point scale) from 34 last year and 36 two years ago. Another positive trend compared to the Q3 MCI study is the excitement to use AV services. Excitement to use personal vehicles increased 11 percentage points, delivery services 3 percentage points, taxi/ride hailing services 4 percentage points, and public transit 2 percentage points.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of respondents say they are very comfortable or extremely comfortable with transporting goods in AVs, and the comfort level increases to 47 percent among those with an active driving assistance feature on their current vehicle.

“Safety is paramount when building any self-driving experience,” says Bryan Reimer, research scientist in the MIT AgeLab and associate director of The New England University Transportation Center at MIT. “Organizations working as technology pioneers have the responsibility to create realistic and accurate consumer expectations for what their products can and cannot do.

“Small setbacks in public trust triggered by misuse of systems or a failure of a system to perform based upon misconceived consumer expectations may hamper deployments over the coming decades, depriving consumers of the convenience and safety benefits the technology can potentially offer. Consumer overconfidence and lack of knowledge to date can lead to risk taking that will cause the AV industry to hit a lot of potholes.”

The J.D. Power 2021 Mobility Confidence Index (MCI) Study is based on responses from 4,000 vehicle owners in the United States age 18 and older who completed a 15-minute online survey. The study results were balanced to basic census demographics to be nationally representative. The study was fielded in June and July of 2021.