People are still wary of self-driving cars

But reluctance drops after they try driver-assist features: study

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SAN FRANCISCO — Most people still say they wouldn’t buy a self-driving vehicle — but they become far more open to the idea after they try cars with automatic driver-assist features.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed by global consulting firm AlixPartners reported personal experience with driver-assist features such as automatic braking, lane keeping and adaptive cruise control. Among those, 49 percent said they are “confident” or “very confident” of driverless cars, 21 percent are neutral and 31 percent are not confident.

Of respondents with no experience with self-driving features, only 28 percent said they were confident or very confident of driverless cars.

“When people get experience with these technologies, they really do get more confident,” said Mark Wakefield, a managing director at AlixPartners.

In his experience, the conversion is quick.

“It must be something about how the brain works. Once the car makes a few turns on its own, people become very comfortable with it,” he said. “Maybe too comfortable.”

Although today’s self-driving features can handle a wide variety of driving conditions, there remain plenty of “corner cases” — complicated situations that self-driving cars can’t handle.

That’s why most automakers are taking a gradual approach to development, and why drivers are expected to pay full attention, even when a car is driving itself.

Cost may be a problem, though. People who say they’d buy vehicles with driverless technology say they’d pay, on average, $2,600 more. Even assuming widespread popularity and economies of scale, Wakefield said, the option would cost at least hundreds of dollars more than that.

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