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Mason professors explain the rapid acceptance of self-driving cars

February 15, 2018

Carryl Baldwin, George Mason University, self-driving cars

Carryl Baldwin

It appears the future of driverless cars is coming faster than expected, and though George Mason University professor Carryl Baldwin, director of the Human Factors and Applied Cognition program, was surprised at the pace, she credited advertising targeted to older adults and families with young children.

“They show lots of scenes where the technology is preventing collisions that humans would have had on their own,” she said.

In a new study by the American Automobile Association, 63 percent of those surveyed said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, down substantially from 75 percent last year. Millennials made the biggest jump, with more than half—51 percent—agreeing to ride in a self-driving car, compared with 27 percent last year. As for baby boomers, they’re warming to the idea too: 68 percent said they would not ride in a self-driving car, down from 85 percent last year.

While the numbers show younger drivers are more likely to get into a fully automated vehicle, Mason professor Frank Shafroth believes it may be older generations that are driving the trend. Shafroth is director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

Frank Shafroth, George Mason University, self-driving cars

Frank Shafroth

“Americans are growing older and living longer than any previous generation—meaning more elderly parents or grandparents are no longer capable of driving—or at least driving safely,” said Shafroth, who last year guided a team of graduate students in creating a toolkit for Virginia state and local leaders for driverless vehicle governance. “These are people who now must depend on someone else to drive them to medical appointments, the grocery store and countless other places they need or want to go. The fewer their options, the more likely they are to take a chance on something new, and something likely much safer.”

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is changing, said Baldwin, who works on safety features with automakers and the federal Department of Transportation.

“It was expected we would see acceptance improve incrementally over a number of years, then suddenly there would be pretty wide acceptance,” she said.

But given the current data, Baldwin added, “That’s enough to suggest a bigger move than we would expect.”

Carryl Baldwin can be reached at 703-993-4653 or

Frank Shafroth can be reached at 703-993-8560 or

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or

About George Mason       

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.