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Talking with San Franciscans About Their Thoughts on the Future of Autonomously Driven Vehicles

March 16, 2022

Person on the Street

At Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving, we’re committed to fostering conversation around what the future could look like with autonomous driving technology. Waymo has autonomously driven vehicles in San Francisco and many residents have seen them driving around. But how do San Franciscans actually feel about the vehicles? What do they think a future with autonomous driving technology looks like?

 We wanted to find out. That’s why we hit the streets of San Francisco to speak with people directly about their hopes for the future when it comes to autonomous driving. San Franciscans shared their opinions on how the technology could affect everything from safety and mobility to drunk driving and cycling.

Here are some of the major themes when it comes to what San Francisco thinks about autonomously driven technology. 

Experience and familiarity are key to acceptance

San Franciscans said that while there may be some uncertainty about autonomously driven vehicles, they believe that familiarity may drive acceptance as time passes. “As there is more research on it, I think I’ll become more comfortable with it,” one woman said. “A lot of people have mixed feelings, but once people try autonomous driving technology and feel safe in it, I think people will start to use it,” another woman added. “I think people have concerns, but as things move forward, I think people will get used to autonomously driven technology,” a cyclist mentioned.

Woman on the Street SF

Autonomously driven vehicles could reduce impaired and distracted driving

San Franciscans said they place a high importance on road safety, and many said they believe autonomously driven vehicles have the potential to reduce behaviors that make our roads more dangerous, such as impaired and distracted driving.

 “Safety is number one,” a cyclist said. “Drinking and driving… autonomously driven vehicles could be helpful in that regard… and tired drivers.”

POS Cyclists

Fully autonomous driving technology could help improve road safety as it can be designed to follow road rules like speed limits while also never driving impaired, tired or distracted. In fact, autonomously driven vehicles are designed to be constantly vigilant and have a suite of sensors that can respond to people and things in all directions, up to 500 meters away.

Autonomously driven technology could improve safety for cyclists

We spoke with many San Francisco-based cyclists who said they believe autonomously driven vehicles could improve road safety for cyclists. The technology can be designed to recognize, distinguish, and respect others on the roads, including pedestrians and cyclists.

“Are they able to see me? Are they able to navigate around me?,” one cyclist asked. “If I can be convinced that an autonomous vehicle was a better driver than a human, I would probably be supportive,” said another.

POS Cyclist Male

Autonomously driven vehicles could benefit those with disabilities

Another potential benefit of autonomously driven vehicles, according to some of the San Franciscans we spoke with, is that they could improve mobility options for those who cannot drive, such as people with disabilities.

“I live with MS,” a man told us. “I’ve met a lot of people who cannot walk or cannot drive or have visual impairments and they would benefit greatly from something like this.”

POS Male with MS

In the past, we’ve highlighted how autonomously driven technology could benefit people with disabilities, such as those with epilepsy. This is also why organizations like LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired SF have partnered with Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving.

Views on autonomously driven vehicles range from skeptical to hopeful

While most San Franciscans we spoke with were curious about and open to autonomously driven vehicles, not everyone was ready to ride in one. “I like being in control of the car,” said a man. “I wouldn’t want to be in a car that was being driven by a computer.”

A group of children had altogether different – and very imaginative – views. “I would go around the world with it,” said one child. “I would go to Hawaii with it,” said another.

POS Family

Overall, the majority of San Franciscans we spoke with displayed the trademark open-mindedness and forward-looking optimism which the city has become known for.

 “I am down for innovation… new stuff,” a woman proclaimed. “I’m ready for it.”