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What Would You Do In A Self-Driving Car?

Self-driving cars. They sound like something out of “The Jetsons” or “The Fifth Element,” but vehicles that take the driver out of the equation aren’t as futuristic as they sound. In fact, according to Business Insider, it is estimated that nearly 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020.

What would you do if your car suddenly became your driver – your very own personal valet? Would you catch up with your friends, read your way through The New York Times' 100 best novels of the 20th century, eat breakfast en route to work or get in 20 bicep curls on your way to pick up the kids?

We asked more than 2,000 drivers from around the world that very question. Here’s what we learned.

Most People Want to Read More

The average American commute is 26 minutes each way – just under an hour per day, about 4.3 hours per week, and just over 225 hours per year (that’s nine days straight) – and that’s just driving to work. Add in taking the kids to school, going to the grocery store or grabbing drinks with friends, and that driving time only increases.

What would you do if your commute suddenly became free time because of self-driving cars? If you’re like most people, the answer is that you’d catch up on your reading, call family or friends on the phone or get ahead on work tasks. (Americans work more than anyone else in the industrialized world, despite the high stress it causes.)

Other common answers? Watch TV or a movie, eat, play video games and sleep behind the wheel. A hands-free car is the only time the latter might be a good idea while driving, but it’s well worth it because more than one-third of American adults are not getting enough sleep.

Getting in some romantic time with a partner also made the list. Is your electric engine revved up yet?

Autopilot Priorities, by State

While most Americans would spend their newfound free time reading, some states rank other activities higher on the list. Catching up with family and friends ranks highest in many states, including Montana, Virginia and Indiana. Texas, California, Idaho and Colorado residents are all about getting in some extra work. Arizona and Iowa locals would like a little extra TV time. And Alaska natives – well, they’d like more time for some hanky-panky.

Autopilot Priorities Around the World

Of course, Americans aren’t the only ones who’ll be taking advantage of self-driving car technology in the coming years. How would the rest of the world spend their time – and how do our priorities compare across borders?

No matter where we’re from, plenty of us still plan on being backseat drivers – even when the real driver is a machine. More than 40 percent of respondents in the U.K. and Australia said they still planned to watch the road, and more than 30 percent of respondents in China, the United States, Japan and India said the same.

Autopilot Priorities, by Profession

Of course, location isn’t the only way to slice these data. Autopilot preferences vary by profession as well. Legal professionals are most likely to watch movies or TV with their newfound free time. Managers are most likely to work. And maintenance professionals are most likely to grab a bite to eat or read a book.

How Do You Feel About Self-Driving Cars?

As we learned above, not everyone likes to jump into a new technology with both feet (or with both eyes closed). Are some people more hesitant than others to try out a self-driving car? Would you feel safe in one?

According to our survey, the nation least likely to feel comfortable in a self-driving vehicle is Japan – despite its status as a world-leader in technology. More than 30 percent of those surveyed in the Land of the Rising Sun say they would not ride in a self-driving car. The U.K. and the U.S. are also leery but a little less so; 23 percent each gave a thumbs-down to self-driving technology.

So what are the most common concerns? By a long shot, respondents most hated the idea of giving up control of their vehicle (42.4 percent).

Auto Safety First

A person’s trust or mistrust of self-driving technology seems to be correlated with how safe they view their own driving habits. Drivers who ranked themselves as unsafe or highly distracted saw self-driving cars as a safer alternative, while drivers who saw themselves as a road risk ranked self-driving cars as less safe.

The Market for Self-Driving Cars

Who’s interested in buying these futuristic driving machines? It turns out, the more miles people drive in a day, the keener they are on driverless technology.

Men were also more interested than women, with more than 47 percent saying they'd definitely buy a driverless car compared to almost 34 percent of women.

The Inside of a Self-Driving Car

If a car can drive itself, it follows that the interior design doesn’t have to be the way it is today. Will the cars of the future look like the back of a limo – with mini fridges and lounge-style seating? Will they incorporate beds for the many who say they’d use their extra time to nap, large-screen TVs for the movie-watching crowd or tables for the card players? The sky may be the limit.

When asked what they’d like to see in the cars of the future, however, most respondents said they’d like cars to stay the way they are today (perhaps because so many of us are still planning on keeping our eyes on the road).

Here Come the Driverless Cars

The truth is that driverless cars are on the way, bringing with them the gift of time and, quite possibly, a safer road system. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error.

Until then, staying safe – as always – is a matter of staying alert. It’s about avoiding distractions, never drinking and driving or texting while driving, and making sure you have quality, affordable insurance that covers you in the case of an unforeseen fender-bender.

Speaking of insurance, if you’re in the market, get competitive quotes for your area with our free insurance quote generator at Auto Insurance Center.


We surveyed 2,000 international drivers to learn their views on riding in a driverless car.


NOTE: If you're a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page so that your audience can learn more about our work. If you'd like to discuss this project, or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected].