Transportation by automobile in the United States is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Rising carbon emissions, increasing congestion, and high traffic accident rates are a few consequences of auto use. Self-driving vehicles offer an alternative form of individualized transportation that can be adapted to reduce such negative impacts. While self-driving cars have great potential to improve the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of our transportation system, many challenges remain, particularly with public perceptions of safety, liabilities, and control. The ability of self-driving vehicles to affect transformative change depends largely on how successful the vehicles are in attracting drivers from automobiles. Once a critical mass of self-driving vehicles has been established, network benefits and other economies of scale enable environmental, safety, and travel time improvements. Public attitudes toward self-driving cars become increasingly important as the public shapes the demand and market for the cars, the policies that govern them, and future investments in infrastructure.
Dan Howard and I investigated attitudes of likely adopters towards self-driving cars through a case study of Berkeley, California. The paper was presented at the 93rd Annual Meeting of TRB (January 12-16, 2014).