Michelle Kondrich

Self-driving cars make 76% of Americans feel less safe on the road

Plus, nearly 80% of Americans wouldn’t pay more for a car with self-driving features.

Rachael Brennan headshotLogan Sachon

By

Rachael Brennan

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

&Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor, News & Research

Logan Sachon is the senior managing editor of news and research at Policygenius, where she oversees our insurance and financial news, surveys, and data studies. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Guardian, Business Insider, CNN Money, BuzzFeed, Money Under 30, VICE, New York Magazine, and elsewhere.

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Self-driving cars are getting a lot of attention lately, with Lyft introducing new models in Las Vegas, Tesla’s ongoing investigations over crashes and deaths, and drivers testing child-detection software on real kids. 

To find out how Americans really feel about self-driving cars, we asked 1,500 drivers for their thoughts on safety and insurance in the Policygenius 2022 Self-Driving Cars Survey.  

Key findings

  • A majority of Americans (76%) say they feel less safe driving or riding in cars with self-driving features. 

  • Likewise, a majority of Americans (73%) say they feel less safe knowing others on the road have cars with self-driving features. 

  • 79% of Americans would not pay more to own a car with self-driving features.

  • 62% of Americans think insurance should cost more for cars with self-driving features.

  • Americans are divided 50/50 on who should be held responsible if a car crashes while self-driving features are in control — the driver or the car manufacturer.

3 out of 4 Americans feel less safe driving or riding in self-driving cars

While some people are thrilled with the idea of self-driving cars (just check out Elon Musk’s mentions on Twitter), most Americans are wary of cars with self-driving features, according to the survey. More than three-quarters of Americans (76%) say they would feel less safe driving or riding in cars with self-driving features.

Many people aren’t comfortable sharing the road with other drivers in self-driving vehicles, either: A majority of Americans (73%) say they feel less safe knowing other people on the road are traveling in cars with self-driving features.

Their concerns aren’t unfounded. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a report on accidents caused by Tesla vehicles with “Autopilot” — the car manufacturer’s standard self-driving feature that can steer, accelerate, and brake, while still requiring the driver’s full attention. 

The NHTSA found that on average, “Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact,” leaving drivers almost zero time to take control of the car. Even further, in about half of the crashes, “indications existed that the driver was insufficiently responsive…as evidenced by drivers either not intervening when needed or intervening through ineffectual control inputs." [1]

Given these findings, it isn’t surprising that 79% of Americans wouldn’t pay more to own a car with self-driving features, according to our survey. Tesla’s Autopilot comes standard on all Tesla models (which start at $46,900), with Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (both of which also require active supervision from the driver) adding an additional $6,000 and $15,000, respectively. Meanwhile, self-driving features from Ford, Lincoln, and Cadillac can add between $1,500 and $3,000 to the cost of the car, plus annual service charges. [2]

62% of Americans think insurance should cost more for self-driving cars

Some car insurance companies offer discounts for lane departure warnings and automatic braking systems, often referred to as “Level 0” self-driving features. But more complex self-driving features at higher levels aren't included in car insurance discounts from any major insurance company. 

38% of Americans think the extra safety features on a self-driving car should earn an insurance discount, but a significant majority of Americans (62%) think insurance for self-driving cars should cost more than regular cars. Some automakers, including Tesla, offer their own insurance, and they do offer lower rates than competitors for drivers that use their self-driving features.

Drivers are split on who’s at fault when a self-driving car crashes 

Our survey also asked Americans how they feel about the concept of “at fault” — which determines whose insurance pays for a claim — when it comes to accidents involving cars with self-driving features. 

We asked: “In your opinion, if a car crashes while self-driving features are in control, who should be held responsible, the driver or the car manufacturer?” Responses were split, with 50% saying the driver and 50% saying the car manufacturer.

The question of liability and self-driving car insurance is one insurance companies will need to answer as self-driving features get more advanced, though a study by the RAND Corporation found that as cars with self-driving cars become the norm, car manufacturers’ liability is likely to increase. [3]

24% of American drivers mistakenly think today’s self-driving cars let you take your eyes off the road 

Elon Musk and the marketing department at Tesla have been pushing “fully automated” vehicles for years, promising in 2016 that 100% of Tesla vehicles would be fully capable of driving with no interaction from a person (also known as “Level 5” automation) by the following year. 

But as of 2022, even vehicles with “Enhanced Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” features have only reached “Level 2”, which means they still require the full attention of the driver.

Three-quarters of Americans (76%) understand that a true “self-driving car” doesn’t exist in today’s car market, and one-third (33%) of Americans say even a car with “full self-driving capability” would require constant attention. 

But alarmingly, almost a quarter (24%) believe they can currently buy a car designed to let them take their eyes off the road while driving. And because of the way Tesla markets self-driving cars as “full self-driving” — even though your complete attention is still required at all times — the company is currently being accused of false advertising by the state of California. [4]

In the meantime, 30 states currently allow car manufacturers to either test or deploy fully-autonomous vehicles that don’t require driver supervision. [5]

Table: Levels of automation

Level

Definition

Does this level require constant driver supervision?

Is this feature available in cars for purchase in the U.S.?

Level 0

“System provides momentary driving assistance, like warnings and alerts, or emergency safety interventions while driver remains fully engaged and attentive.”

Yes

Yes

Level 1

“System provides continuous assistance with either acceleration/braking OR steering, while driver remains fully engaged and attentive”

Yes

Yes

Level 2

“System provides continuous assistance with both acceleration/braking AND steering, while driver remains fully engaged and attentive.”

Yes

Yes

Level 3

“System provides continuous assistance with both acceleration/braking AND steering, while driver remains fully engaged and attentive.”

Yes

No

Level 4

“System is fully responsible for driving tasks within limited service areas”

No

No

Level 5

“System is fully responsible for driving tasks while occupants act only as passengers and do not need to be engaged.”

No

No

Source: NHTSA


Methodology

Policygenius commissioned Google Surveys to poll a nationally representative sample of 1,500 adults aged 18 and older. The average margin of error for responses is +/- 6.1%. For more details, see Google Surveys’ methodology. Percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number, so some totals may not add up to 100.

About Policygenius

Policygenius is the online insurance marketplace combining cutting-edge technology with the expertise of real licensed agents to help people get the coverage they need to protect their family, property, and finances with confidence. Since 2014 we’ve helped over 30 million people shop for insurance and placed more than $150 billion in coverage from our headquarters in New York City and Durham, North Carolina.

For reporters

To request more information about the data, or to speak with one of our experts, contact press@policygenius.com.

References

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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of our

editorial standards.
  1. NHTSA

    . "

    “Autopilot & First Responder Scenes”

    ." Accessed September 12, 2022.

  2. Cars.com

    . "

    “When Hands-Free Ain’t Free: What’s the Cost of Self-Driving Tech?”

    ." Accessed September 12, 2022.

  3. RAND Corporation

    . "

    “Autonomous Vehicle Technology A Guide for Policymakers”

    ." Accessed September 12, 2022.

  4. Los Angeles Times

    . "

    “California DMV accuses Tesla of falsely advertising Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features”

    ." Accessed September 12, 2022.

  5. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    . "

    “Autonomous vehicle laws”

    ." Accessed September 12, 2022.

Authors

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

Senior Managing Editor, News & Research

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor, News & Research

gray twitter icon linkgray linkedin icon link

Logan Sachon is the senior managing editor of news and research at Policygenius, where she oversees our insurance and financial news, surveys, and data studies. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Guardian, Business Insider, CNN Money, BuzzFeed, Money Under 30, VICE, New York Magazine, and elsewhere.

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