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Americans Expect Driverless Cars to Be Common in Next Decade

Americans Expect Driverless Cars to Be Common in Next Decade

by Megan Brenan

Story Highlights

  • 53% say driverless cars will be common within 10 years
  • 69% say they would have a positive impact on the elderly or disabled
  • Public divided over driverless cars' effects on auto industry and traffic

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A slim majority of Americans, 53%, believe fully automated, driverless cars will be commonly used in the U.S. within the next 10 years, a goal that automobile manufacturers and technology companies are working tirelessly to achieve. Beyond that, 28% think the technology won't be ready for 11 to 20 years, and 15% say it will take even longer.

Americans Expect Driverless Cars to Be Common Within 10 Years
Thinking about fully automated, "driverless cars," cars that use technology to drive and do not need a human driver, based on what you have heard or read, how soon do you think driverless cars will be commonly used in the U.S.?
U.S. adults
Within 5 years 19
6-10 years 34
11-15 years 18
16-20 years 10
Longer than that 15
Gallup, April 23-29, 2018

These results, from an April 23-29 Gallup poll, supplement findings from a 2017 Northeastern University/Gallup survey of Americans' attitudes toward artificial intelligence showing the public to be generally uncomfortable with self-driving vehicles. Specifically, that survey found 23% of Americans are comfortable with the idea of riding in a self-driving car on a daily basis, and 59% are uncomfortable with it.

The public's predictions of when driverless cars will be commonly used are fairly similar across subgroups, although there are modest differences based on age and region. Americans in the youngest and oldest age groups (18 to 29 and 65 and older) are somewhat less likely than those aged 30 to 64 to say driverless technology will be common in the next decade.

Americans in the Western U.S. are more likely than those in any other region to say the technology will become common within 10 years. Two Western states, California and Arizona, have led the way in testing driverless vehicles on their roads, undoubtedly leading to a higher level of awareness in that region.


Americans Skeptical of Safety of Self-Driving Cars

One of the key selling points for driverless cars is safety -- specifically, that autonomous cars with constantly vigilant computers will ultimately be safer than those driven by often-distracted humans. Americans, however, aren't yet sold on that argument. In the latest poll, Americans were asked which level of driverless car use would make U.S. roads the safest. The choices included use of only human-operated cars, use of mostly human-operated cars with some driverless cars, an equal mix of both, mostly driverless cars or only driverless cars. A 47% plurality think the safest option is having only or mostly human-operated cars on U.S. roads, while 28% think having only or mostly driverless cars would be safest.

Given the same choices, respondents were also asked to choose the least safe option. These results were more closely divided, with 40% saying all or mostly driverless cars on the road would be least safe and 34% saying the same of all or mostly human-operated cars.

Roughly a quarter (24%) say that an equal mix of driverless and human-operated cars would be the safest option, and the same percentage say this would be the least safe option. This scenario most closely approximates what would likely happen first as driverless cars are introduced into the driving landscape. Figuring out how this new technology can coexist with cars operated by humans is and will continue to be one of the many challenges that society will have to confront.

Americans Skeptical of Safety of Driverless Cars
All human-operated Mostly human-operated Equal mix Mostly driverless All driverless
% % % % %
Which of the following do you think would be the safest option on U.S. roads? 29 18 24 10 18
Which of the following do you think would be the least safe option on U.S. roads? 22 12 24 11 29
Gallup, April 23-29, 2018

Westerners are divided as to whether more driverless cars on the road (36%) or more human-operated cars on the road (34%) is safer, but those in the other regions show a clearer preference for all or mostly human-operated as being safer, with close to half saying this.

College graduates and adults with an annual household income of $90,000 or more are relatively more positive than their counterparts about the safety of driverless cars. These groups are roughly split in saying mostly or all driverless cars would be safest versus having mostly or all human-operated cars. By contrast, non-college graduates and adults with a household income of less than $90,000 are twice as likely to say relying on human-operated cars would be safer than relying on driverless cars.

Americans Divided on Effects of Driverless Cars

Automakers and technology companies that produce driverless cars tout a number of potential benefits, including increased independence for those who cannot drive, fewer traffic accidents and fatalities, less pollution, and easing traffic congestion. Yet, for the most part, Americans are divided in their opinions about whether these benefits will result from the use of self-driving cars.

Assisting elderly and disabled people in getting around is the only measure tested by Gallup that receives a majority saying it would be a positive impact of self-driving cars. Pluralities of more than four in 10 Americans think the technology will have a positive effect on the number of car accidents and fatalities and on the quality of the environment. The public is closely divided over whether effects on traffic congestion and the U.S. auto industry would be positive or negative.

Americans' Views of the Effects of Driverless Cars
Do you think driverless cars would have a mostly positive impact, neither positive nor negative, or a mostly negative impact on each of the following in the U.S.?
Mostly positive Neither positive nor negative Mostly negative
% % %
The ability for elderly or disabled people to get around 69 10 21
The number of deaths in car accidents 44 20 33
The number of car accidents 44 17 36
The quality of the environment 41 32 24
Traffic congestion 39 24 34
The U.S. auto industry 37 24 37
Gallup, April 23-29, 2018

Still, Americans are more likely to say driverless cars would have a positive than negative impact on five of six aspects rated. They are evenly divided on the effect the technology would have on the auto industry.


While some analysts predict that 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020, others make much more conservative estimates. A slim majority of Americans currently see self-driving cars on the near horizon, and the vast majority expect them to be commonly used within the next two decades. But there is little consensus on the effects this new technology will have on Americans' lives or society in general.

Several recent highly publicized accidents involving driverless technology have no doubt done little to improve the public's comfort level with these cars. However, just as has occurred with the adoption of other technologies such as cellphones, televisions, computers and microwave ovens, gradual increases in familiarity may cause support and interest to snowball, particularly if the purported benefits to auto safety, traffic congestion and convenience become evident.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 23-29, 2018, with a random sample of 1,503 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.


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