Study: Those in Urban and Rural Areas More Likely to Support Self-Driving Cars

In a novel finding, Autonomous Vehicles California‘s new survey of Californians’ Opinions on Self-Driving Cars found that suburbanites were less likely to support self-driving cars than their urban or rural counterparts.

About the Survey

The survey included 313 Californians, with an ample sample of urbanites (41%), suburbanites (29%) and rural dwellers (31%). Three yes or no questions were asked of the survey participants related to self-driving car support:

  • Would you be in support of a highway lane dedicated to self-driving cars?
  • If available, would you consider hailing a self-driving car for a long-distance trip to specific destinations, such as San Francisco to Los Angeles, or Los Angeles to Las Vegas?
  • Imagine self-driving cars existed today, and that they could pick you up on-demand and cost less overall than car ownership. Would you consider using them as your primary mode of transportation?

While overall support was high, suburban residents were substantially less supportive of autonomous vehicles – both qualitatively and statistically.

Urban Density and Opinions on Autonomous Vehicles

Why might this be the case? City dwellers are certainly more accustomed to commuting options that don’t include owning an automobile, and a recent survey by ZipCar showed that “40 percent [of urbanites] would consider purchasing a personal automated vehicle or using a car sharing service for self-driving vehicles.” But the difficulties of navigating cities might be worrying, and urbanites already have a plethora of driving options. This has led some to suggest that car-hungry suburbanites are the more logical choice for AVs.

Rural residents might be less concerned about a reduction in general traffic lanes on major highways. And having autonomous vehicles available could be viewed as an alternative transportation option where none have have typically existed. But concerns over automated vehicles being able to traverse off-route and possibly over dirt or uncleared roads might give rural dwellers pause, and require specific consideration. In addition, rural America’s love with car and truck ownership might dissuade those from the sharing and gig economy. (For an interesting rejoinder, see this article from Emily Badger at the Washington Post.)

Perhaps suburbanites exhibit a combination of the previous considerations that foretells their relative reluctance to embrace self-driving cars. (“Relative” being the operative word, since they are still generally supportive.) Suburbanites do have some alternative methods of transportation (bus, rail in some cases), but still love their cars. And having to often drive on highways, they may be more concerned about a dedicated lane removing a current one.

Summary and Opinions

One specific outcome of these findings may be that self-driving efforts – and particularly dedicated lanes – may find more support if they were routed through rural areas such as central California, which could expand the infrastructure more easily with fewer side-effects on traditional cars, while also bringing an economic boost to local communities.

Why do you think urbanites and rural folks are most supportive of self-driving cars? What do you think are the repercussions? We’d love to hear you comments.

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