Study: Consumers Don’t Understand Autonomous Vehicles

J.D. Power reports confusion about terms, technology and safety of self-driving cars.

Nancy Dunham, Principal Analyst/Retail

October 5, 2022

3 Min Read
Fewer consumers are ready for self-driving cars than they were a year ago, J.D. Power reports.Kelley Blue Book

Consumers don’t share the auto industry’s excitement about autonomous vehicles and are uncomfortable having them transport people, according to the J.D. Power 2022 Mobility Confidence Index.

Part of the reason for the mistrust, J.D. Power experts say, is a lack of knowledge about those vehicles due to confusing messaging from the industry. Respondents to this year’s report knew little more about autonomous vehicles than last year’s participants.

“Industry stakeholders must work together to ensure clear and consistent messaging, and the use of consumer-facing terminology is part of this,” says Lisa Boor, senior manager of auto benchmarking and mobility development, J.D. Power. “Understanding which words and phrases resonate with consumers can help manage misconceptions and improve consumer understanding of AVs, which is a common goal.”

The findings support that opinion. Some 56% of study respondents thought current driver technologies are the same as fully automated self-driving systems. Consumers showed further confusion when asked about terminology used to describe different levels of automation.

For example, consumers use the same three terms (assisted driving, driver assistance and semi-autonomous) when describing multiple levels of automation. They don’t understand industry lingo, including SAE Level 2 and SAE Level 3 which refer to increasingly higher levels of driver assistance, says J.D. Power.

Industry insiders should note that among the 37% of consumers seeking information on fully automated, self-driving vehicles, the following are the most commonly used online sources: online searches (54%), online videos (45%), and vehicle manufacturer/developer websites (39%).

Following are key findings from the 2022 study:

  • Consumers are less ready for automated self-driving vehicles than they were a year ago: The index score for consumer AV readiness is 39 (on a 100-point scale), a 3-percentage-point decline from 2021. Consumers have the lowest level of comfort riding in a fully automated, self-driving vehicle and using fully automatic, self-driving public transit. They are more comfortable when such vehicles transport goods or people whose age or injuries prevent them from driving. 

  • Consumers receptive to AV training: More than half (55%) are willing to complete training to operate an AV. 

  • Opportunity for more effective learning methods: More than a quarter (26%) of respondents report they learn about advanced driver assistance systems from dealers. Other respondents say they get their education from owner’s manuals (32%) and online searches (27%). 

  • Most respondents avoid active driving assistance: Only 26% report using active driving assistance. Those who frequently use active driving assistance want it on their next vehicles. 

  • Consumer comfort with automation may be overstated: Respondents who indicate that driver assist technology is the maximum level of automation with which they are comfortable remains unchanged at 41%. Even those who demonstrate comfort with the highest levels of automation express a lack of trust and concern that the developing technology is not proven. More than three-fourths (76%) say they want more information on how the vehicle technology meets government standards to feel comfortable with automated vehicles.

The J.D. Power 2022 Mobility Confidence Index Study is based on responses from 4,000 vehicle owners in the U.S. age 18 and older.

The study was conducted in June 2022 and is based on six unique attributes of consumer comfort with fully automated, self-driving vehicles. The comprehensive metric measures consumer readiness for AV technology in several categories: personal vehicles; commercial vehicles; public transit; riding if unable to drive due to age or injury; sharing the road with other AVs; and consumer purchase intent.

J.D. Power, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) and the MIT Advanced Vehicle Technology (AVT) Consortium conducted the study.



About the Author(s)

Nancy Dunham

Principal Analyst/Retail, WardsAuto

Nancy Dunham became an auto journalist more than twenty years ago. She has worked as an editor and writer for the National Automobile Dealers Association, US News & World Report, CarFax, and various newspapers in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Her work also appears in Costco Connections, AARP, the New York Times, Rolling Stone and other publications.

Before specializing in automotive retail journalism, she was a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and publisher.

She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her three beloved cats.

Contact her at [email protected] or

Subscribe to a WardsAuto newsletter today!
Get the latest automotive news delivered daily or weekly. With 5 newsletters to choose from, each curated by our Editors, you can decide what matters to you most.

You May Also Like