Are Humans Built For Autonomous Vehicles?

By Stan Bochniak   |   4.5 min. read

With the steady rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs), the automotive industry is tussling with the largest transformation in its history — one that’s poised to render human drivers obsolete.

Unsurprisingly, we don’t often like to think of ourselves as obsolete. And though AVs are set to slash the number of deaths and injuries caused by road crashes — of which 94 percent are caused by human error — public opinion remains decidedly cold towards self-driving vehicles.

In fact, research by J.D. Power and Miller Canfield suggests consumers are steering clear of fully automated, self-driving vehicles for now. According to the research, only 14 percent of consumers “definitely would” get in a self-driving car, while 17 percent said they “definitely would not.”

It’s clear that the widespread adoption of AVs could be hindered by one of our most stubborn human behaviors — skepticism. This begs the question: are humans built for autonomous vehicles?

Relinquishing Power, Establishing Trust

In addition to increased safety, preliminary research by Morgan Stanley stresses the favorable financial implications of self-driving vehicles, predicting $1.3 trillion in annual savings for the U.S. economy. That’s:

$553 Billion

On Accidents

$507 Billion

On Productivity

$158 Billion

On Fuel

$138 Billion

On Congestion

$11 Billion

On Traffic

However, these savings can only be realized by relinquishing our self-governance to self-governing machines — and it’s no easy feat. Even on public transportation, we find comfort knowing that a tangible team of humans is in charge of getting us from A to B (for better or for worse).

AVs, on the other hand, force us to find comfort in something less concrete. Instead of our peers, we’re tasked with relying on highly complex algorithms — invisible and, for the majority of us, inconceivable.

What History Teaches Us

Our reluctance to relinquish control to technology has repeated itself for generations. From the birth of the steam locomotive to the rise (and debatable fall) of cryptocurrencies, adoption at innovation’s inception is frequently sluggish.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations theory chalks up this apparent listlessness to a heavy reliance on communication over time, which takes place in five distinct stages: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation.

Today, we’re still firmly in the “knowledge” stage of communicating about AV technology, leaving us to process a variety of messages that are often at conflict with each other. From potentially generating billions of dollars in new revenue to perpetrating fatal crashes, there’s plenty for the public to digest — and it’s still uncertain which messages will eventually prevail.

All That Driving Represents

Traditional cars communicate a very different message than AVs — one that’s steeped in cultural significance and tradition.

For many of us, the cars we’ve owned throughout the years represent substantial milestones in our lives. Our first rusty hatchback was an incarnation of the teenage dream: our first taste of freedom and independence. Our first “real” car as young professionals signified waxing successes, ambitions, and (yes) drive. The series of sticky, “rough-and-ready” family cars that followed were a true embodiment of the trials and tribulations of family life. And that convertible — if we’re lucky — in retirement perfectly represents our well-earned relaxation time.

It’s certain that AVs will come in a variety of tiers; we’ll still likely be able to choose from sport, luxury, and budget models. But as we potentially move away from private vehicle ownership and towards a shared economy, it’s equally likely that our cultural success markers will shift gears, too.

The Millennial Factor

It’d perhaps be easy to write off talk of cultural evolution and AV skepticism as relics of baby boomers and Generation Xers. However, millennials have been quick to voice their qualms as well.

According to a recent survey commissioned by Hagerty, 81 percent of millennials think learning to drive is a rite of passage worth preserving, and 61 percent consider driving to be a positive emotional experience — practices that both stand to be lost to an AV-driven age.

In fact, 81 percent of millennials surveyed declared a like, love, or passion for driving — a slight but surprisingly greater share than baby boomers (79 percent) and Generation Xers (78 percent). These results allude to a simple truth that AVs directly impinge upon: driving is fun.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Of course, the great AV debate isn’t as black and white as the picture we’re painting. After all, many of us are already harnessing AV technology to drive safely on a daily basis; anyone with a car manufactured in the past five years, for example, is likely benefitting from park assist cameras and adaptive cruise control.

It’s this incremental adoption — something we’re barely conscious of — versus a sudden and absolute overhaul of our driving habits that will eventually see self-driving vehicles prevail as a primary mode of transport.


It’s important to note that self-driving vehicles are still firmly in their pilot phase. Thus, there are still plenty of unknowns regarding potential ownership models, market acceptance, public policy response, data privacy, and even liability. However, one thing is certain: as with all innovations, self-driving vehicles will be interdependent on other advancements — including products, services, and infrastructures — for adoption to be self-sustaining.

About Impark

Impark will remain at the forefront of all AV technological developments. As one of North America’s largest and most successful parking management companies, we are and will remain committed to researching and forecasting the potential impact AVs will have on parking, mobility, and the economy at large.

Stan Bochniak is vice president of strategic accounts. Email him at

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