MIT Study Finds Interest In Autonomous Vehicles Dropping Across All Age Groups

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A new study by MIT shows that across all ages interest in automated driving is dropping as the public learns more about the technology.

A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have measured a significant drop in driver interest in autonomous vehicle technology over the past year. The Age Lab at MIT has done an in-depth survey of drivers asking them how they feel about all aspects of autonomous vehicle technology in each of the past two years. With automakers spending billions to develop and promote the technology, and the media a willing participant in hyping the benefits of driverless cars and automated safety systems, one might assume that as the public has more exposure to the technology the public would have growing interest. Actually, the complete opposite is true and the trend is found across all age groups.

The researchers carefully vetted a group of about 3,000 drivers of modern automobiles to take the comprehensive survey. The MIT group then carefully broke down the respondents by age and gender to look at their opinions about automated driving technologies. Bryan Reimer, Ph.D., stunned the New England Motor Press Association at its annual gathering at MIT by reporting that, “Compared to 2016, in 2017 there was a significant decrease in the proportion of respondents who were comfortable with the idea of a fully self-driving car,” and that “…there was a proportional decrease in those who were comfortable with features that periodically take control of driving.” One important aspect that Dr. Reimer emphasized was that the decline in interest was not limited to one age group, but was found in all age groups, including the youngest drivers.

The conventional wisdom is that older drivers may be more resistant to newer technologies. Particularly those that take full control of a vehicle in which they are a passenger. There is limited evidence to support this. A close look at the results of the survey above shows that about one in ten older drivers is interested in partial or full autonomy.  There are slightly more young drivers ages 16-24 interested in autonomy, but about 80 to 86% of young drivers express an unwillingness to use partial or full automation.

A recent study done by J.D. Power came to a similar conclusion. Summarizing the results found in that study, Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and HMI research at J.D. Power, said, “In most cases, as technology concepts get closer to becoming reality, consumer curiosity and acceptance increase. With autonomous vehicles, we see a pattern where trust drives interest in the technology and right now, the level of trust is declining.”

Another telling fact that the MIT group uncovered is that fully 48% of respondents say they “Would never purchase a car that completely drives itself.” Among those remaining who would consider buying a self-driving car, two-thirds would only do so if its price was under $49,000. Since fully-autonomous vehicles will need to be electric or hybrid-enabled in order to power the vast and expensive array of sensors needed to guide the vehicle, it is very unlikely automakers will hit that low price point anytime soon.


When asked why they would not want to own or use a fully-autonomous car about half said that “It will never work perfectly,” or “I don’t trust it.” One-third more simply don’t want to “lose control.” As Dr. Reimer pointed out in the opening remarks of his presentation, the past year was the first in which a driver was killed in an autonomous vehicle and the first year in which there were multiple crashes involving autonomous vehicles.

As time passes and more facts are learned, the driving public is losing faith that automakers will deliver on the promises of increased safety and other benefits advocates claim autonomous vehicles will bring. Perhaps this is why automakers are speeding up the testing of autonomous cars.

Read the full MIT Age Lab Report here.