America’s oldest auto association wants consumers to overcome their fear of driverless cars

Image: Jeff Scheid/AAA
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The American Automobile Association doesn’t want the future to leave it behind.

On Nov. 8, the association, in partnership with French transportation company Keolis, launched an all-electric, self-driving shuttle in downtown Las Vegas, geared at familiarizing consumers with the nascent technology. The pilot, in Vegas’ Innovation District, follows a two-week trial run conducted by Keolis in January.

Over the next year, AAA aims to give some 250,000 people free rides on the self-driving shuttle, which will run a 0.6-mile loop with three stops (and a safety driver onboard just in case). AAA plans to donate $1 per passenger to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund, for a minimum of $100,000. The group will also survey riders before and after each trip to understand why the majority of Americans remain anxious about self-driving technology, and whether the shuttle experience changes their mind.

“We’re seeing a change in technology that’s fundamentally changing how people view transportation—it’s changing mobility, and it’s changing cars,” says John Moreno, AAA’s manager of public affairs. “Everything is either focused on the auto manufacturers who are making the vehicles or the tech providers who are implementing the technology. There seems to be a void for the voice of the consumer.”

The AAA, which has launched several car-sharing and self-driving car initiatives in California this year, hopes to glean insights that could inform the regulatory landscape for self-driving technology, and help automakers and tech companies address Americans’ concerns around its widespread adoption. If the US can successfully facilitate a safe transition to autonomous vehicles, “the benefits are quite compelling,” Moreno says. “It just makes everyone enjoy life more.”