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Self-parking tech vs. drivers: Guess who wins?

October 23, 2015
Americans don’t trust self-parking technology. Maybe they should.
Some 80 percent of American drivers are confident in their parallel parking abilities, according to a survey by AAA. But the organization found in a series of tests that self-parking technology outperformed manual parkers in number of curb strikes and maneuvers, speed, and accuracy. Drivers lost out even though they had help from a standard back-up camera in the car.
AAA tested self-driving features on five 2015 model vehicles: Lincoln MKC, Mercedes-Benz ML400 4Matic, Cadillac CTS-V Sport, BMW i3, and Jeep Cherokee Limited. The testing found drivers who used self-parking systems experienced 81 percent fewer curb strikes and were able to complete the task 10 percent faster than drivers who did it themselves.
Self-parking systems parallel parked the vehicles using 47 percent fewer maneuvers, with some systems completing the task in as little as one maneuver, according to AAA.
But self-parking technology is not issue-free. AAA found that some systems parked the vehicles exceedingly close to the curb, which left wheels and tires vulnerable to scratches and costly repairs. Some systems left as little as a half-inch buffer. AAA recommends drivers leave 6 to 8 inches between the vehicle and the curb when parallel parking.
And even if self-parking technology might do a better job, some drivers just aren’t ready to give up control of the wheel. Only one in four drivers who responded to the AAA survey said they would trust the technology to park their vehicle.
Therein lies the conundrum for automakers, which are under industry pressure to add ever more technology to their new vehicles. In-vehicle technology is big business — about $14.5 billion in projected revenues in 2015 alone, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. 
And yet, consumers are wary of a lot of the tech that’s being added to vehicles. In some cases, consumers apparently are so repulsed by certain technology that they don’t want it in their next car.
A J.D. Power survey released in August found that at least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measured. In the survey, 39 percent of the respondents said they don’t want an automatic parking system in their next car, although 82 percent said they would like parking assist, which still gives the driver manual control.
In short, there is a significant gap between the technology available in cars today and people who actually want to use it. In some cases, it is a lack of trust in the technology (or seen another way, a greater confidence in our own abilities). In other cases, consumers just don’t see a need for the technology.
Either way, the hesitation toward today’s technology foreshadows the challenge that automakers face to convince people to give up all control and jump into a self-driving car. 
Google and Apple, among others, already are testing self-driving cars. The technology isn’t the problem; confidence in it will be.