BOISE – For many Americans, self-driving vehicles aren’t quite ready for prime time.  According to AAA’s new survey, nearly nine in ten drivers (86 percent) say that they would be afraid or unsure about riding in a vehicle without the customary steering wheel and pedals.

But drivers are slowly warming to the idea of advanced safety features, with 58% saying that they would be interested in having systems like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance in their next vehicle.  That’s an eight percent increase from a year ago.

“One surprise in our research is that for most drivers, the pandemic doesn’t affect their preference for a mass transit or ride-hailing option over an autonomous vehicle, even though self-driving cars would likely be contactless and less crowded,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho.  “Continued exposure to the technology will be the key to helping people get comfortable with it, but for now, most drivers are looking to add a bit at a time.”

Conde said that part of the public’s reluctance could lie in the fact that most people have never experienced fully autonomous vehicles for themselves, as companies are only conducting tests in a small handful of cities.

AAA says that 80 percent of drivers consider improving vehicle safety systems to be an important initiative, while just 22 percent feel the same way about developing self-driving cars.  AAA urges automakers and other stakeholders to work together both to improve existing technology and to support further innovation.  However, development should never outpace safety.

“We’re excited for the day when self-driving cars will be able to provide mobility solutions for people who might not otherwise be able to operate a motor vehicle, and for the potential of eliminating congestion and reducing crashes on America’s roads,” Conde said.  “But since we’re in the early stages of the learning process, Congress should prioritize consumer education and training and encourage full transparency from automakers on safety and cybersecurity issues.”

As semi-autonomous safety features become more readily available, new vehicle owners should ask plenty of questions to understand how these systems work before leaving the lot.