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Enthusiasm around autonomous vehicles has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic

A report on the state of driverless vehicles in the US finds enthusiasm growing and general acceptance that they are the way of the future.

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A report on the public perception of self-driving vehicles in the United States found that 62% of people surveyed believe autonomous vehicles are the way of the future, and that enthusiasm for those vehicles has risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The survey of more than 1,000 Americans and its accompanying Consumer Mobility Report comes from Motional, a driverless technology company created by Hyundai and Aptive. Motional was created to work on commercial uses of SAE level four vehicles, which are fully autonomous and able to perform all tasks from the beginning to the end of a trip. 

Along with finding enthusiasm for driverless vehicles rising, Motional also found that there's a knowledge gap around self-driving vehicles that plays directly into an enthusiasm gap. 

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Respondents who rated themselves extremely knowledgeable about autonomous vehicles were far more likely to believe that those on the road to day are safe and reliable (76%), versus those that said they are less knowledgeable, of whom only 10% said current self-driving vehicles are safe. 

That gap persists when asking whether or not driverless vehicles are the way of the future: 82% of those extremely knowledgeable say yes, while only 23% of the less knowledgeable say the same.

Knowledge level also affects whether or not people are enthused about, or likely to use, a driverless car. Of the highly knowledgeable, 72% said they would be excited to ride in a self-driving vehicle, and only 11% of the less knowledgeable say the same. 

Give the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle, 86% of the extremely knowledgeable would take the opportunity, and only 28% of the less knowledgeable would do so. In terms of regularity of use, 66% of the extremely knowledgeable say yes to the opportunity, while only 3% of the less knowledgeable would be willing to make frequent use of autonomous cars. 

"This report makes clear that familiarity is the key to adoption. As we get more cars on the road, we'll bridge the gap between the perception of this technology, and the reality of how positively and permanently it will change our daily lives," said Motional CEO and president Karl Iagnemma.

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Familiarity with self-driving vehicles may be growing, or at least enthusiasm is, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which "nearly one in five consumers [became] more interested in self-driving vehicles than they were before the pandemic," the report said.

The coronavirus "has opened our eyes to some of the biggest issues facing cities," the report stated. 70% of respondents said that risk of infection is having an impact on their transportation choices, 76% said concerns around the safety of public spaces have increased, and 69% said the coronavirus has changed how cities should be planned in the future. 

60% of respondents said that they have reconsidered transportation choices to accommodate social distancing, and it's here that the benefit of driverless vehicles in a post-pandemic environment can be seen: With no driver in the vehicle, passengers have one less potential infection vector, and therefore safety issue, to be concerned about. 

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