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What might stop Americans from buying driverless vehicles?

"Risk does not disappear - it shifts from humans to machines," points out a spokesperson for the insurer American International Group, Inc. (AIG).

That describes a lot of Americans' attitude toward self-driving vehicles. They might very well be capable of cutting the accident rate significantly, but that may not be enough to encourage people to buy one. People would need to believe that an autonomous vehicle would reduce their own chance of being in an accident -- and they're not.

In fact, a recent survey by AIG found that only 39 percent of U.S. residents believe that driverless vehicles will operate more safely than those driven by human beings. The results were about even on whether the respondents were comfortable with sharing the road with an autonomous vehicle. Forty-two percent said they were, while 41 percent said they were not.

What were the respondents so afraid of? Hackers.

Three quarters of the respondents were afraid that hackers would be able to take control of the computers that drive those vehicles.

Technological risk was also a major factor in whether driverless vehicles will be quickly adopted by the public. The respondents didn't think the process would be quick. On average, they estimated it would be 22 years before fully autonomous vehicles would make up 20 percent of the vehicles being driven. They estimated 34 years before driverless cars and trucks would account for the majority of motor vehicles on U.S. roads.

Why not? The respondents were allowed to choose up to three responses, and here were their top reasons:

  • High cost (55 percent)
  • Inadequately secured computer systems (41 percent)
  • People's enjoyment of driving (41 percent)
  • Inadequate safety (35 percent)

These results, which came from a poll of 1,000 people, are in line with a previous study by the consulting firm AlixPartners. That study concluded that most U.S. consumers were not likely to seriously consider purchasing an autonomous vehicle once they reach the market.

Another issue that was discussed in the AIG survey was liability after accidents. The survey participants were given a scenario in which a fully driverless vehicle strikes a pedestrian, and then one in which a semi-autonomous vehicle does. In the first case, 50 percent felt the automaker was most at fault, followed by the software provider (37 percent).

In the case of a semi-autonomous vehicle, such as one with automated technology to assist the driver, the liability assessment changed. In that case, 54 percent of respondents felt the driver was most responsible. 33 percent thought the automaker was still largely responsible, and 27 percent blamed the software provider.

"The need for personal auto insurance will not go away as driverless cars emerge," said an AIG spokesperson.

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