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UW professor: Why people will (eventually) embrace self-driving cars

Kirkland residents might catch a glimpse of self-driving cars in February. (AP)

Autonomous self-driving cars may not be fully ready for the public, but when they are, University of Washington associate professor Don MacKenzie expects them to take off.

“We’re really interested looking ahead in how many people might use automated vehicles, and how much more they might drive,” MacKenzie told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

MacKenzie led a study to get to the bottom of that question once and for all, ascribing dollar values to the amount commuters would be willing to pay per hour to have someone (or something) else drive them to work.

What the study found was intriguing to say the least.

What would a Seattle filled with self-driving cars look like?

“What we found was the cost of their time was worth about $24 an hour [in an Uber or Lyft]. So basically people would pay about $24 to save an hour of time,” said MacKenzie.

When it came to self-driving cars, though, people were more skeptical, largely due to safety concerns.

“When we told them they’d be in an autonomous vehicle, that time went up to about $28 [an hour]. So that stress premium is saying that riding in this car would actually be $4 worse,” he noted.

That being so, MacKenzie doesn’t expect that trend to continue as self-driving cars continue to advance into the public eye.

As the technology improves, he sees a future where it could actually be the preferred mode of transportation.

How close is Washington state to using self-driving trucks?

“We think in the future, if this technology takes off, if it proves to be viable commercially, it’s going to be because people embrace it and and learn and accept it,” MacKenzie posited.

He even expects people to actually travel in their cars more often in a world where self-driving cars are the norm.

“Basically, autonomous vehicles will make driving safer, cheaper, and more convenient. When you make something safer, cheaper and more convenient, we expect people to do more of it.”

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