Americans are dangerously overconfident in their driving skills -- but they're about to get a harsh reality check

Matthew DeBord/BIIt will be better to let the car drive.

  • AAA released a study showing that 8 of 10 men think they’re above-average drivers.
  • However, 90% of accidents are caused by human error.
  • More self-driving cars will likely change this and force drivers to deal with their actual skill levels.

Americans think they’re great drivers – and that could be holding back self-driving cars.

AAA just released a study showing that autonomous vehicles are gaining in acceptance. But that shift comes with an asterisk: an over-estimation of superior driving skills indicates that motorists are having a tough time facing up to reality.

“Although fears of self-driving vehicles appear to be easing, US drivers report high confidence in their own driving abilities,” AAA said in a statement.

“Despite the fact that more than 90% of crashes involve human error, three-quarters (73 per cent) of US drivers consider themselves better-than-average drivers. Men, in particular, are confident in their driving skills with 8 in 10 considering their driving skills better than average.”

I’ve been driving for over 30 years, and I can argue with conviction that my male driving skills are no better than average. As a practical matter, this means I’m a safe and careful driver, always staying within my limits.

But as an auto journalist, I’m both exposed to a wide range to different vehicles (all the more reason to be careful and stay within limits) and have received professional driving instruction. The more cars I drive and the more I learn about driving from the pros, the lower I rate my own talents behind the wheel.

Ford Track Attack Racing SchoolFordI’ve been trained to drive, and I still have a lot to learn.

If I’m at best a decent, experienced driver, there’s no way that 80% of my fellow male motorists have admirable skills. In fact, when I’m riding along with a great driver, I’m usefully humbled. It isn’t hard to be a competent driver, but it’s extremely difficult to be truly above average.

Overconfidence behind the wheel might never go away, but as more autonomous vehicles hit the road in the coming decades, statistics are going to win the day. Accident rates could plummet, to the point that as auto-industry veteran Bob Lutz recently pointed out, governments will decide that letting the human drive is far too risky.

“Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardised modules,” he wrote in Automotive News. “The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command.”

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