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  • Bob Knight

Is the Public Ready for Autonomous Vehicles?

Autonomous Vehicles on a Highway

Are we ready for autonomous vehicles (AVs)? That's the question being asked this week at the Northeast Connected & Automated Vehicle Summit in Hartford, Connecticut. Top brass from transportation departments across the nation are grappling with "massive social, industrial, and economic changes to the status quo of transportation and mobility," according to Joseph Giulietti, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Officials are working diligently to map governance of AVs, while simultaneously trying to understand the human factors involved with sharing the road with automated vehicles, cyber security, and the impact of hauling freight without a driver on congested roadways.

Summit participants agree that a greater focus on public education is needed for autonomous vehicles to succeed in the marketplace. According to a 2019 Reuters/Ipsos poll, half of U.S. adults think AVs are more dangerous than vehicles with human drivers and nearly two-thirds expressed they would not purchase a fully-autonomous vehicle. Respondents also said they were unwilling to pay more for an AV. The findings are nearly identical to a similar poll conducted in 2018. Experts at the summit say autonomous trucks are viewed even less-favorably than their autonomous car counterparts.

But that could change with public education.

To build trust in AVs, states are working to engage the public. In Pennsylvania, PennDOT has held a series of virtual town halls says Mark Kopek, Special Advisor for Transformational Technology at Pennsylvania DOT. Julia Gold, Chief of Sustainability and Innovation at Rhode Island DOT points to a special team of community engagement professionals deployed with the Little Roady Autonomous Shuttle whom are available to answer questions or offer reassurance as the AV makes its way on a pre-determined route through a congested Providence neighborhood.

There's a lot on the line for automakers who have ploughing significant capital into the development of AVs. Trapped between investors seeking strong returns, and a skeptical public unwilling to pay a premium for new AV technology, the industry will need widespread adoption to turn a profit.

And that will depend on public education.

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