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Concerned about self-driving cars? You're not alone

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT -- Using the adaptive cruise control on his Toyota Avalon left Rich Heidebrink feeling uneasy.

"I was always nervous about getting popped from behind," the Northwood, Ohio, man explained about the driver assistance technology that allows one vehicle to maintain a set distance behind another with the aid of sensors.

Heidebrink, 63, said he would shut the cruise function off in traffic because he was concerned that another driver would cut in front of him and his car would brake too suddenly for someone following him. It's an experience Heidebrink mentioned as he explained his impressions about self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles.

Heidebrink, whose pride is a 1954 Chevy convertible, and his friend, Keith Fraker, 65, of Toledo, Ohio, were at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week and had just looked over a Cadillac CT6, which offers General Motors' semi-autonomous Super Cruise feature.

"It might be old school, but I enjoy driving," Fraker noted.

Self-driving cars, it turns out, are neither man's speed. It was the kind of response the Free Press received from numerous people at the Detroit auto show. It's a wariness informed by reports such as the fatal 2016 crash in Florida of a Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode -- several people mentioned that incident -- and of users' personal experiences with technology and their continued affection for being in control of their ride.


"At home, how many times does your computer crash?" asked Joe Wisniewski, 69, of Fenton. Wisniewski said he is "not interested at all" in driverless cars, and he dismissed the possibility that the vehicles would be in wide use any time soon.

Wisniewski's wife, Paula, might be more willing than her husband to give one a try, but not right away. She'd prefer to let automakers get the bugs out first. However, she suggested that driverless cars would probably be safer than drunken drivers.

As automakers push aggressive time frames for introducing driverless vehicles, the outreach needed to convince the public that the technology represents a positive development appears still to be wanting.

Numerous surveys, such as the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Tech Choice Study, which showed an increased wariness of self-driving cars, have reflected a disconnect between industry enthusiasm and the public's attitudes toward a driverless future.


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