Don't Take Away My Steering Wheel, Drivers Tell Researchers | Edmunds

Don't Take Away My Steering Wheel, Drivers Tell Researchers

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — As the era of the self-driving car creeps ever closer, a new study finds that a vast majority of drivers want to have a steering wheel, plus gas and brake pedals available to completely control autonomous cars when desired.

A whopping 96.2 percent of respondents want traditional controls to remain in self-driving cars, according to a new report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

As previously reported by Edmunds, many experts believe steering wheels and control pedals could disappear from cars by 2035. Last year, Google introduced and began testing a self-driving concept vehicle without conventional controls.

The study comes at a time when automakers and tech companies, including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Renault-Nissan, are ramping up the development of self-driving cars. The individual test vehicles include the Cadillac Super Cruise and an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid.

Some say not only may steering wheels become obsolete, but the driver may be unnecessary as well.

Audi recently noted that the global auto industry is moving rapidly toward an era "when drivers won't be required for driving."

"Within several years, car owners are expected to have the option to turn over control of their vehicle to an internal pilot, thanks to advances across digital technologies that are being perfected and harnessed continually by Audi and other automakers, as well as by tech companies including Google," Audi said.

Consumers are clearly resisting the idea of self-driving cars.

The UMTRI study, Motorists' Preferences for Different Levels of Vehicle Automation, by researchers Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak, found that 43.8 percent of drivers surveyed want no self-driving capability at all in their cars, while another 40.6 percent will tolerate only partial autonomy.

Just 15.6 percent of those surveyed expressed a preference for turning over total control to the vehicle.

About two-thirds of respondents in the new UMTRI study said they are either very or moderately concerned about riding in completely self-driving vehicles.

"Safety is still a primary concern," Schoettle told Edmunds. "But I think it also relates to the idea of handing control over to the vehicle and being able to rely on it for the level of safety we generally expect.

"The basic track record of self-driving vehicles is pretty good so far, but giving up complete control like that is something most drivers have never done, so they remain apprehensive. As that record of safe driving gets longer, hopefully people will start having a more positive opinion of the technology.

Edmunds says: Automakers and tech firms will need to be prepared to address consumers' concerns about self-driving cars before rolling the vehicles out to showrooms.

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