Readers split on whether they will miss driving their non-autonomous car

04 August 2014

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Driving has become an integral component of our daily lives, especially in developed countries. Cars are not just a means for us to get from point A to point B. They also help us express our personality and show off our character and competencies in the way we drive. For example, a Dodge Charger commercial from three years ago makes this point explicit with the phrase “leader of human resistance.” The Huffington Post UK’s recent (entertaining) video interview shows that the public’s opinion on autonomous cars seems to be mixed in terms of whether people will be willing to give up their driving experience.

Realizing that the task of driving can be a valued, personal activity, we wondered whether people will miss the experience of driving once autonomous cars become more available in the consumer market.

Would you miss the experience of driving?

Poll7 Q1

In our last poll, we asked whether you would miss driving an autonomous car and why. There is a clear half-way split in the answers that were provided. Half of the participants said they would miss driving and the other half would not. Considering the results, it is likely that the experience of “driving” an autonomous car, or how the autonomous car will replace/supplement people’s current driving experience will influence people’s decision to own one — meaning that user experience designers of autonomous cars have some interesting challenges to deal with.

Should the experience of riding in an autonomous car be radically different than the cars we own today? For example, the latest self-driving car from Google looks quite a bit different from today’s typical cars in that it does not have steering wheels, accelerators or brakes. Despite the fact that a significant portion of people will miss driving non-autonomous cars, it is possible that we will quickly start to embrace a different driving experience that an autonomous car has to offer.

Why would you miss driving?

Poll7 Q2

There seem to be two major themes in the reasons why people said they would miss driving: control and pleasure.

Driving a car can give us a sense of control. Dan Gilbert mentions in his book “Pursuit of Happiness”, having a sense of control makes us feel happy. Driving is a skill that people can strive to improve, and many people enjoy a sense of pride when they get praised for their driving ability. Pleasure of driving can, of course, come from the sense of control people get when they drive: for example, a driver has the power to choose whether to disobey traffic laws, and have complete control of how the car gets to the destination. But for some of us, driving can also be just a relaxing activity. Sometimes, people use the driving time as the time they get to take their minds off of possibly stressful events from the day.

Outside the context of human-driven cars, it is perhaps difficult to emulate the pleasures of manual driving or joyriding. But maybe autonomous cars will provide us with more advanced versions of KITT (a talking car from the 80’s TV series “Knight Rider”) in the future, and give us a different thrill out of driving.

Why would you NOT miss driving?

Poll7 Q3Driving is not all about pleasure. Most of us have experienced long traffic jams, road rage and frustrating accidents. Can autonomous cars offer a more enjoyable experience?

Participants who said they would not miss driving had two main thematic reasons: 1. Improved functionality in terms of safety, efficiency and accessibility 2. Improved user experience due to lack of stress. Indeed, not everyone enjoys driving. Some find it so stressful that they refuse to drive. To most people, the main point of a car is to get them from one place to another, and they would not care less about the driving experience itself. As our results indicate, some people expect to be able to work on other perhaps more enjoyable/important tasks if cars start driving themselves.

Most of us have not been on an autonomous car. Therefore, it is challenging to predict how much we will miss our non-autonomous cars in the future, and whether the sentiment will matter in our society’s adoption of the technology after all.

What is clear is that a significant percentage of people today take pleasure in driving and a sense of control it provides; on the other hand, many of us are ready to shift gears to a safer and more efficient passenger experience.

The results of the poll presented in this post have been analyzed and written by Shalaleh Rismani, AJung Moon, and Camilla Bassani at the Open Roboethics initiative.

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Open Roboethics Initiative is a roboethics thinktank concerned with studying robotics-related design and policy issues.
Open Roboethics Initiative is a roboethics thinktank concerned with studying robotics-related design and policy issues.

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