90% of drivers would consider an autonomous car if it cut insurance rates

One in four would text and talk while a computer drove their car, survey shows

Consumers would allow a computer to drive their car if doing so would cut their insurance rates by 80%, according to a survey by CarInsurance.com.

"Our survey shows cheaper insurance will greatly influence consumer acceptance," CarInsurance.com managing editor Des Toups said in a statement. "Some of the liability of operating a car will doubtless be assumed by the manufacturer. But a lot of the decrease in rates could come simply because there would be many fewer accidents."

Oddly enough, the survey of 2,000 customers by the online consumer insurance site also showed that 75% of respondents think they could drive a car better than a computer. Another 64% said computers were not capable of the same quality of decision-making as human drivers. And 75% would not trust a driverless car to take their children to school.

The responses fly in the face of recent research.

A recent study by the non-profit Eno Center for Transportation found that because 90% of all driving accidents are caused by operator error, automating vehicles through onboard computers would reduce injuries, deaths and related costs by staggering amounts.

Alcohol, drugs, inexperience, speeding, and wet and icy roads can all contribute to an accident. If computers controlled vehicles, they could sense and anticipate road conditions and objects around them, helping to avoid accidents, the study showed. In fact, if just 10% of all vehicles in the U.S. were self-driving, the number accidents each year would be cut by 211,000; 1,100 lives would be saved; and economic costs would be reduced by $22.7B.

If 90% of vehicles in the U.S. were self-driving, as many as 4.2 million accidents could be avoided each year, saving 21,700 lives and $450 billion in related costs.

The Carinsurance.com survey also found that some drivers need no more coaxing than the benefit of not having to operate their vehicle. One in five (20%) of the licensed drivers surveyed said they would never take the wheel again if a self-driving, or autonomous, car were available.

More than a third (34%) of those surveyed said an 80% discount on car insurance rates would probably persuade them to buy an autonomous vehicle, and 90% said they'd at least "consider the idea."

Car manufacturers and technology companies, such as Google, have announced plans to launch self-driving vehicle lines by 2020.

As of August, California and Nevada had enacted legislation to allow self-driving car licensing. Florida and Washington D.C. have begun autonomous vehicle testing, and similar legislation is pending in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the Eno Center study.

Drivers surveyed by Carinsurance.com were also asked what they would do with their spare time while commuting if their vehicle could drive itself. They said they would:

  • Text/talk with friends: 26%
  • Other (enjoy scenery or watch the road): 21%
  • Read: 21%
  • Sleep: 10%
  • Watch movies: 8%
  • Play games: 7%
  • Work: 7%

While Google has been a clear innovator and evangelist for autonomous technology, respondents said they are more inclined to trust a carmaker to make an autonomous car than a software maker. Asked who they would trust most to deliver autonomous-car technology, drivers said:

  • Communications company such as Sprint or Verizon: 1%
  • Consumer products company such as Apple or Samsung: 12%
  • Software company such as Google or Microsoft: 15%
  • Start-up automaker such as Tesla: 18%
  • Traditional automaker such as Honda, Ford or Toyota: 54%

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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