Will privacy, security concerns keep self-driving cars in the garage?

Larry Ponemon

Ponemon Institute is pleased to announce the release of Will Security & Privacy Concerns Stall the Adoption of Autonomous Automobiles?, presented at The Securing Mobility Summit at AutoMobility LA. The purpose of this study is to learn what adult-aged consumers think about the autonomous automobile. Specifically:

  • Do consumers have concerns about their security and privacy?
  • Do consumers feel enough trust to buy an autonomous vehicle?
  • Do consumers feel enough trust to ride in an autonomous vehicle?
  • Do consumers believe that OEMs will take appropriate steps to secure the autonomous vehicle?
  • Do consumers recognize the safety and convenience implications?
  • Are consumers worried about hackers seizing control of the autonomous automobile?
  • Do consumers think autonomous automobiles will make their life better or worse?

Before we answer those questions, the research offers some surprising insights about driver’s attitudes that might provide an opportunity – or a warning – to those designing autonomous vehicles.

First, while a plurality of drivers (34%) said they spend less than an hour each day in their cars, a stunning 23% said they spend 4 hours each day driving.  That’s a lot of time behind the wheel – roughly a quarter of all waking hours.  None of that time is spent being productive at a keyboard (theoretically, anyway).  That’s an immense potential benefit to self-driving cars that we’ll see again in the findings.

Also, 17% of drivers told us they don’t feel safe RIGHT NOW in their cars.  Nearly one in five drivers feel unsafe on the road.  It seems plausible that this group would be open to a product that would make them feel safer.

On the other hand, fully 33% of drivers said that other safety innovations – like air bags, roll cages, and rear cameras – haven’t made them feel safer. What does make them feel safer? Circumstances. Nearly half – 45% — say the location and time contribute to unsafe feelings. (Rush hour driving, unsurprisingly, was the most common culprit).  An even greater margin, 60%, say the type of car impacts their feelings of safety.  Drivers said they felt most save in SUVs.

It seems clear that the driving public is a naturally skeptical bunch, and that will create hurdles for self-driving cars and their makers to overcome. Fully 25% told us they’d never buy an autonomous vehicle. Of that group, the top reasons were almost equally positive and negative – 34% said they’d like to drive, but 30% said they feared hacking. Another 15% said they didn’t think autonomous vehicles were safe, and 8% said they were concerned about collection of personal data.

The skepticism doesn’t stop there. Fully 24% said they would never be a passenger in a self-driving car, either – something services like Uber will have to consider.  And a surprising number of respondents didn’t see self-driving cars having an impact on accident rates – 37% said there would be no change. Slightly more said they would reduce accidents (40%) than increase them (23%).

Consumers seem to have mixed feelings about automakers and the autonomous cars they will make. Slightly more than half -– 56% — expressed that faith this way: “I believe automobile manufacturers will only make autonomous vehicles that are safe and secure.” They do have a list of demands, however:

  • 77% said they expect manufacturers to “tell me what security precautions are taken to prevent the automobile from being hacked”
  • 65% said they should “let me know how I can protect my privacy and security within the automobile”
  • 56% said they should “Allow me to control what information is collected within the automobile”
  • 46% said they should “compensate me if my information is misused or stolen.”

But there’s good news in the results, too. The number one reason (27%) people are interested in self-driving cars is to reclaim the time they are losing while driving right now. That’s a tremendous market opportunity. Another 24% said autonomous cars would serve as a stress reliever. Lower down the list of reasons, a fascinating 12% said believed self-driving cars would offer transportation “when I can no longer drive,” suggesting another opportunity.

Still, those investing heavily in this industry need to take note: Many consumers still don’t believe in the disruptive power of autonomous cars.  When asked to rank which innovations have or will change their lives the most, self-driving cars ranked lower than the Internet, mobile phones, and social media – and just above laptop computers and online shopping. Overall, some 40% said self-driving cars will not change their lives, and another 19% expected they will change their lives for the worse.  Another 41% said they’ll change their lives for the better, showing how much work the industry has to do to gain both the trust and acceptance of drivers.

The entire PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here:


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