Consumers’ Response to Automated Vehicles


C. Raymond Bingham, PhD
Research Professor, Department of Psychiatry, U-M School of Medicine, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, U-M School of Public Health, and head of the Young Driver Behavior and Injury Prevention Group, U-M Transportation Research Institute


May 2015 – April 2016


Anuj Pradhan, PhD
Assistant Research Scientist, Human Factors Group, U-M Transportation Research Institute


  1. Identify priority areas in the field of automated passenger vehicles.
  2. Examine consumer response to such priorities from biopsychosocial and behavioral perspectives.
  3. Undertake an in-depth exploration of consumers’ response and acceptance of automated vehicles.


Phase 1 will identify priorities in automated vehicles through surveying expert stakeholders (for example, members of the MTC Leadership Circle and university research leaders). Phase 2 will expose consumers to a simulated automated vehicle with priority technology features to be followed by individual interviews. We will quantitatively examine stress, trust, perceived expectations, and driving behavior, e.g. a bio psychosocial assessment of response. We will then qualitatively explore consumers’ responses of acceptance, including ease of use and usability, and underlying components of, motivation, comfort, trust, expectations, and costs as well as the way in which consumers relate these to intended use for themselves, their family, and likely word of mouth recommendations. This will be explored with regard to safety, traffic congestion, and fuel efficiency.


Two publications are in preparation:

(1) A consumer study of automated vehicles: A multi-method study of emotional response (proposed journal: Journal of the Association for Consumer Research – Special Issue)

(2) Explaining consumers’ response to automated vehicles: Expanding the Theory of Planned Behavior with trust and identity (proposed journal: Transportation Research: Part F)

The findings have implications for a number of areas in consumer marketing:

Future research should follow through with the recognized priorities of the expert panel, including direct interactions with vulnerable road users, more dense and diverse urban environments, distracted drivers, platooning (with mixed traffic), and testing in inclement weather and other suboptimal conditions. Many of these issues should be considered outside the driving simulator environment.

We found that a well-tested behavior theory already defined in the health psychology literature continued to predict intended behavior to the extent that theoretical constructs similarly predicted intended behavior, that is the Theory of Planned Behavior was predictive of intended use. Thus, existing behavior change theories should be explored regarding intended use of AV.

Findings highlight the complexity of emotional response when addressing typical considerations about AV (e.g. hacking, privacy) and findings particularly highlight the need to consider trust in different elements of AV, perhaps as a multi-dimensional construct. The same emotional reactions to the drive did not necessarily relate to elements of trust in the same way.

Given the smaller sample, we undertook few analyses by demographics. Largely qualitative comments did not differ by the age and sex of the participant with the exception of the focus of a significant other that reflected appropriate developmental considerations for others, whether they be parents, a spouse, or children. We did however find that previous experience of a crash (although rarely reported) was associated with intended use of AV. Future studies might wish to further examine how consumers audiences maybe segmented by demographics and how that segmentation may change over time.

The in-depth qualitative analysis provided further insights and raised additional questions. While participants noted a number of benefits to AV, many were surprised by their experience with the drive. Thus there maybe benefits or costs that are unexpected to consumers or that consumers are not able to articulate in the interviews that prompt regular use.

Consumers were quick to adapt and describe their surprise with such ease. Of note, the experimental protocol involved a practice drive and experimenter present to be sure they understood instructions.

There were a variety of issues that appealed to consumers and further examination of the variation of such issues is warranted.