The Fuse

Men, Women, and the Autonomous Vehicles Enthusiasm Gap

by Leslie Hayward | April 06, 2016

According to recent survey research, there may be a gap in how men and women view fully autonomous cars, as well as early autonomous features that are already mainstream. Women may be less trusting of the technology in general, but there is evidence that greater familiarity with autonomous driving features may be more important than gender in ultimately establishing consumer trust.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), women have greater safety concerns than men when it comes to riding in a fully autonomous vehicle, with 81 percent of women expressing fear of letting the car do the driving, compared to 67 percent of men.

The main reason that women have expressed concern is that they cite “not knowing enough” about autonomous features as a reason they would not purchase semi-autonomous technology in their next vehicle.

When it comes to semi-autonomous technology such as automatic emergency braking systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning/lane keep assist, and self‐parking technology, there’s also a gap in both trust and interest between men and women, with women generally expressing greater skepticism. The main reason that women have expressed concern is that they cite “not knowing enough” about autonomous features as a reason they would not purchase semi-autonomous technology in their next vehicle. Fifty-six percent of women have this concern, compared to 44 percent of male drivers. Women are also twice as likely as men to cite fear that semi-autonomous technology would be “too complicated” as a reason why they would avoid it in their next vehicle purchase.

AAA’s survey also found that men are more likely than women to trust semi‐autonomous vehicle technologies, specifically self‐parking (42 percent vs. 31 percent), automatic emergency braking (49 percent vs. 40 percent) and adaptive cruise control (50 percent vs. 43 percent). Men also expressed a generally higher desire to have these features in their next vehicle.

The one area where women are more optimistic than men on autonomous cars is how these technologies could help reduce stress—50 percent of women are interested in the technology for this reason, compared to 42 percent of men.

AAA’s survey findings on the difference in enthusiasm between women and men is consistent with previous research. In August 2014, researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that 59 percent of men had a generally positive view of autonomous vehicles, compared to 54 percent of women. Those numbers are close, but the research found that “women consistently responded with less enthusiasm about the technology and registered more concerns over its safety.” The same survey found that two-thirds of respondents believe that self-driving cars could lead to fewer and less severe crashes, while 70 percent thought the technology could improve fuel economy. Nearly half of Americans believe it would ease traffic congestion and make for shorter travel times.

But while there does appear to be a mild gender gap on acceptance of semi-autonomous car technology, the bigger concern for advocates is the fact that 81 percent of women and 67 percent of men express safety concerns about autonomous vehicles. Overall, according to AAA, only 20 percent of U.S. drivers would trust an autonomous vehicle to fully drive itself with them in it. It does appear that there is some consistency on women being generally less open to these features than men—however, the difference is often less than 10 percent. On almost all of the other issues listed above where there is some gender divide, the population is still generally split in the general area of 50-50 in terms of trust, interest, desire for more information, and stress reduction.

Overall, according to AAA, only 20 percent of U.S. drivers would trust an autonomous vehicle to fully drive itself with them in it.

Much bigger than the differences between men and women is the fact that drivers whose cars already have some light autonomous features are much more trusting of the technology than those who do not. This could be partially the result of those who purchase cars with such features as already more inclined to trust and use them, although many are likely to own vehicles where these features came standard. According to AAA, drivers that have semi‐autonomous technology in their vehicle are dramatically more likely to trust it than those that do not: On lane‐departure warnings and lane keep assist, the trust gap was 84 percent among those who had this feature in their car vs. 50 percent, with adaptive cruise control trust was 73 percent vs. 47 percent, and with automatic emergency braking the gap was 71 percent vs. 44 percent. These larger spreads suggest that exposure may be part of the key to increasing consumer trust in autonomous cars. This dovetails with the survey’s findings that both men and women express concern about not having enough information about autonomous features—for automakers, the implication is to improve public understanding of how this technology works in order to boost enthusiasm from customers.

Overall, across both genders, 61 percent of Americans want at least one of the following features in their next car: Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, self-parking technology, and lane-keeping assistance, suggesting that a majority of drivers remain open to one or more forms of the technology.

In addition to the gender gap, AAA noted a difference among respondents of different generations. Baby boomers were significantly more likely to express fear about riding in a fully autonomous vehicle than millennials or Gen-Xers, at 82 percent versus 69 percent—an interesting dynamic, considering the fact that one of the major benefits of driverless cars is the mobility access it creates for the very old. Given that acceptance of driverless cars tends to grow with personal exposure, and the fact that the elderly will benefit from greater mobility access once autonomous cars are mainstream, baby boomers may have the strongest reversal in opinion on this matter in the coming decades.

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