Pittsburgh residents don’t fear driverless vehicles, survey says | TribLIVE.com

Pittsburgh residents don’t fear driverless vehicles, survey says

Nicole C. Brambila

Pittsburghers are – by and large – comfortable sharing the road with autonomous vehicles, bucking national trends that show most U.S. drivers distrust driverless technology.

This week Bike Pittsburgh, which advocates for safe streets to bike and walk, released a biennial survey showing people feel safer sharing the road with autonomous vehicles over human drivers.

“Our survey shows that the more people have exposure with this, the more comfortable they are with it,” said Eric Boerer, the group’s advocacy director.

The findings stand in stark contrast to most public opinion polls, which consistently find American drivers are leery of vehicles steered by artificial intelligence.

For example, a Gallup poll last year found 62 percent of drivers would not be uncomfortable sharing the road with self-driving trucks. And an international study by TÜV Rheinland, also last year, examined Chinese, German and American attitudes and found only a third of U.S. drivers believe driverless cars will increase road safety.

So why would Pittsburghers feel so differently?

Boerer says the reason is likely because the rest of the public doesn’t yet interact with the technology. Driverless cars are not cruising around most communities like they do in Pittsburgh. Aurora Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University, Uber and Argo AI are all testing self-driving cars in Allegheny County, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation data.

State and federal law does not yet address vehicle development. However, PennDOT last year issued guidance for testers. Erin Waters-Trasatt, a PennDOT spokeswoman, said that while voluntary, the agency expects compliance.

Bike Pittsburgh first conducted its survey gauging public sentiment after Uber began testing semi-autonomous vehicles in 2016.

Among the findings released Tuesday:

  • 61 percent of pedestrians in Pittsburgh have encountered an autonomous vehicle and 53 percent of bikers.
  • 72 percent of the 800 Pittsburghers surveyed said they believed self-driving vehicles will improve road safety.
  • Only 15 percent of respondents said these vehicles will make street safety worse.

The survey also reflects local sentiments in the wake of the first pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous car in Tempe, Ariz., last March. Pittsburghers didn’t sour on the technology as much as how Uber handled the tragedy, the survey found.

Sarah Abboud, an Uber spokeswoman, said the local survey was good news for the industry.

“We are encouraged that the majority of survey respondents have confidence in self-driving vehicle safety in our city, and we look forward to our continued partnership with key government and community stakeholders as we develop and test our self-driving technology,” Abboud said in an email to the Tribune-Review.

Bike Pittsburgh also identified an issue with self-driving cars “impatiently passing people on bikes” on Railroad Street in the Strip District that has resulted in at least one injury. Reported through an online submission form that seeks the public’s experiences with autonomous vehicles, the group identified an incident last summer involving an Argo AI car and a bike rider. The bike rider broke an arm after an Argo car passed too closely, according to a complaint submitted to Bike Pittsburgh.

Alan Hall, a Ford Autonomous Vehicles spokesman, said Argo AI was not aware of last summer’s incident until this week. The company, he said, has initiated an internal investigation.

The survey also highlights 10 policy recommendations that include requiring autonomous vehicles be easily identifiable and the city creating a procedure for reporting safety-related incidents.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who has pushed for driverless car restrictions that includes an operating speed limit, did not respond to requests for comment.

To read a full copy of the report, go to https://www.bikepgh.org.

Nicole Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter @nbrambila.

Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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