Image of how how AV adoption could function

Even as they admit to frequent distracted driving, Canadians aren’t ready to turn over the wheel to autonomous technology, according to a new survey from Desjardins Insurance

A survey of more than 3,000 Canadian drivers conducted for Desjardins General Insurance Group has found that 72 per cent of respondents don’t trust self-driving vehicles.

“Canadians aren’t necessarily convinced or trust self-driving technology,” says Ken Lindhardsen, vice-president of accident benefits and bodily injury for Desjardins.

A big reason, he suspects, is a lack of familiarity with the technology since there aren’t many self-driving vehicles currently in use.

“If someone doesn’t own one, they probably don’t understand well how it works and maybe don’t have that same trust and confidence in its ability to do the job that it’s intended to do.”

“There’s no question that moving in the direction of autonomous vehicles is the right way to go. The question is at what pace, and how quickly can we accelerate understanding?”

Ken Lindhardsen, Vice President, Desjardins General Insurance Group

Safety technology trusted

More familiar, the survey shows, are vehicle safety technologies like lane-departure or front-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking — 32 per cent of drivers now report having these in their vehicles and more than twice that many (69 per cent) say they trust them.

“The way I interpret that [over-reliance concern] is there is a risk of acting differently than you would otherwise normally act because you have that vehicle safety technology,” says Lindhardsen. “And in the event that that happens, there’s been the risk that not only do you take away the benefits, but in fact it goes the other way.”

Source: Desjardins Insurance Group

Driver focus still key

However, a similar number (67 per cent) feel they are more likely to become distracted if they rely on them. In fact, according to the survey, 46 per cent of respondents says this is already happening.

Lindhardsen says drivers need to be aware of when they need do something manually.

“Safety technology is something that adds to our skills as drivers as opposed to replacing our skills,” he says. “Drivers should still be focusing on the road and not getting distracted by the technology or being distracted by infotainment systems or being distracted by our cell phones.”

The latter is still a growing problem, the survey found, despite laws prohibited phone use and hefty fines when drivers are caught. According to Desjardins, more than half of all drivers admit to using a cellphone while driving — an increase of 15 per cent in the past two years.

AVs’ potential recognized

While precautions and a deeper understanding need to be in place for autonomous vehicles to be trusted, the potential is there, says Lindhardsen.

“I think society recognizes the opportunity and potential for autonomous vehicles because it creates the ability to do so many positive things, from managing road traffic and road congestion to increasing the flexibility in terms of how people can get around,” he says.

“There’s no question that moving in the direction of autonomous vehicles is the right way to go. I think the question is at what pace and how quickly can we accelerate understanding, ensuring both the technology is at a sufficient point in its development life cycle to be living up to the expectations and improving road safety, while at the same time educating consumers as a whole.”