Though fully autonomous vehicles have yet to be released for consumer use, according to a recent Autolist survey, it seems that there is already a market for them.
In a nationwide survey of 8,576 vehicle owners representing different age groups from all over the country, Autolist found that almost 50 percent of centennials (age 16-24) and millennials (25-39) are ready to hand over the keys and control of their vehicles and buy a self-driving car.
Additionally, an increased number of people from all groups surveyed, regardless of age or gender, say they will completely trust self-driving cars in 10 years.
The cars in question are classified as Level 5 autonomy. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are six levels (0 through 5) of autonomy based on the responsibility and awareness required of the driver.
In Level 0, everything is completely controlled by the driver. Level 5 essentially demotes every human in the car to passenger status.
Several car manufacturers have announced their plans to stay ahead of the curve in autonomous technology. Between Cadillac’s “hands-free” Super Cruise system, which is set to debut this fall, BMW’s recently announced iNext, Tesla’s promise to send a self-driving car from Los Angeles to New York by the end of the year, and many other companies in the testing phase, it’s clear that autonomous cars are just around the corner.
Rob D’Augustinis, sales manager at Tom Bush BMW on Atlantic Boulevard, is optimistic about the future of automated vehicles. He believes consumers, especially millennials and younger, will eventually trust them just as they have learned to trust current self-driving features.
“As it becomes more of the norm, the next generation will truly embrace it,” D’Augustinis said. “The current generation has completely embraced the safety features that are not that far of a leap from autonomous driving.”
Autonomous safety features have been used for some time, D’Augustinis said, but drivers must overcome a mental hurdle of relinquishing total control of the car.
The technology already exists for Level 5 autonomy in BMW cars and testing is well underway, D’Augustinis said.
“What will guide the release of these cars is lawmakers and politicians,” D’Augustinis said. “The technology is there, it’s just whether it’s legal.”
Mark O’Steen, co-owner of O’Steen Automotive Group and head of O’Steen Volvo on Philips Highway, said sales of Volvos that include Level 2 autonomous features coincide with Autolist’s findings.
“A lot of people really like the Level 2,” O’Steen said. “But as for complete autonomous driving, the older a person, it’s less likely because they’re traditionalists.”
“I think there will be a time when the older cars change out for technology,” he said. “I think there will always be, in my lifetime, a way to turn [autonomous features]on and off when you want. That’s what they have now on the Volvos and it has reduced accidents.”
Advances in such technology have caused Volvo to boldly state that by the year 2020, “no one will be killed or severely injured in a Volvo,” O’Steen said.
Drivers who still want to drive
Despite what the findings of the survey imply, and the research that claims increased safety and fewer accidents, there are still many drivers who would have a hard time giving up control.
Car enthusiast Chris Brewer has an interesting perspective on the car technologies unfolding. Though he acknowledges the value of automotive features, the director of public relations for the Concours d’Elegance and co-founder of Automotive Addicts feels a stronger pull toward more traditional vehicles.
“I just did a road trip in the  370Z Heritage Edition,” Brewer said. “It’s the base model with [no autonomous features]on it. I hadn’t felt that connected to the road in a new car in a long time.”
“Until everybody is autonomous, I’m not sure that I want to be autonomous,” Brewer admitted. “Until then, I kind of want to have control.”
Centennial Sam Heekin, a student at the University of Florida who drives a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee, said that he would never feel safe in an autonomous vehicle no matter the statistics.
“Personally, I would never trust a driverless car to respond to the adversity that comes with driving on a road or highway,” Heekin, 20, said. “When I need to get somewhere quickly and safely, the only person I really trust is myself, and certainly not an automated response system.”
Similarly, millennial Michael McGowan drives a 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe that has no autonomous features. The 29-year-old vice president of Chase Properties said he would not initially invest in a fully autonomous car, but might consider it if he had the option to take control at all times.
“People will always love to drive cars themselves,” McGowan said. “It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. There’s an excitement and a thrill to driving and being in charge.”
THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION (JACKSONVILLE)/TNS