China is poised to lead in self-driving cars—and it’s not because of technology

Mass adoption requires mass trust.
Mass adoption requires mass trust.
Image: Baidu
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China may adopt self-driving cars faster than the US, but not because of any technological advantage.

A survey released Tuesday (Feb. 20) by TÜV Rheinland, a Germany-based technical services company, shows that the Chinese public is better poised to accept autonomous vehicles, mainly because they trust the technology and feel more secure about passing on their data than Americans. The company surveyed 1,000 people from both China and the US, aged 18 years and over and in possession of a driver’s license.

The results match another survey released by Ford in December 2017, which found that Chinese adults had a more positive outlook on autonomous vehicles. Out of 10,000 respondents, 83% of Chinese adults agreed with the statement “I am hopeful about the future of autonomous vehicles,” whereas only 50% of US adults agreed.

A study conducted by Pew in October 2017 found that, among Americans who did not want to ride in self-driving cars, a lack of trust ranked at the top of their concerns.

China has rapidly adopted many new technologies in the last decade from contactless payment systems to the bullet train network. Under an authoritarian government, Chinese citizens are already accustomed to ceding their data to companies and government services. Tight control of the Chinese media may also affect perceptions of self-driving technology.

“We can only assume that this perception is driven by media reports on accidents and current issues with autonomous vehicle technology, which is seemingly more present in the US than in China.” Matthias Schubert, executive vice president of mobility at TUV Rheinland, told Quartz in an email.

If the US wants to lead, the government and companies will “need to educate the public with more and better information about the benefits of the new technology,” Schubert said.