Our cars are getting smarter and smarter: They may help you park or switch lanes, dictate directions if you need them, link up with your phone to play your calls and music or make sure you stop before it's too late.

As NPR's Sonari Glinton has reported, an average car already has millions of lines of code, and some recent research has shown that the technological offerings are the deciding factors in new car purchases. A new study by Autotrader found that 70 percent of shoppers preferred vehicles with autonomous features like park assist, collision avoidance and automatic braking.

This is a big shift in the industry and both the automakers and technology companies are racing to cash in. Companies like Google, Uber, Tesla, Ford, Lyft, Toyota, BMW and General Motors are striking partnerships and making plans to equip our cars with more autonomous features on the way toward a fully self-driving vehicle. Regulators are trying to stay abreast.

But what does the public think about autonomous cars? The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute has been looking into this. In mid-2014, researchers there conducted a survey of public opinions in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Project manager Brandon Schoettle spoke to NPR's Ari Shapiro about the mixed messages that the public has been sending about self-driving cars.

You can listen to the audio above, and here are a few additional excerpts from their conversation.


Interview Highlights

On whether people want to own a self-driving car

We often get back a bit of a mixed message. In general, people are concerned about riding in these types of vehicles, but at the same time, they're also very interested in riding in and possibly owning one of these vehicles. As much as they have concerns, there's an interest there.

On details of his survey findings

We tried to make it very simple and ask people very straightforward questions: Do you want a self-driving vehicle; do you want no self-driving vehicle; and if you want self-driving, do you want it to do all or partial? ...

The largest single answer we got was that people don't want a self-driving vehicle. However, when you combine the responses we got for partially self-driving or completely self-driving, then a majority of people we talked to want some version of a self-driving vehicle. However, the completely self-driving type that would have no steering wheel, no gas or brake pedals was a much smaller percentage than either of the other two. So depending on how you look at it, you could say that the largest group don't want self-driving vehicles or, to put it another way, the majority do want a self-driving vehicle of some kind.

On the biggest concerns that people have

Of course, they're concerned that the vehicle might not do as good a job of driving as your average human driver, for example that it might get confused in situations where a human driver might figure things out a little more easily. They're also concerned about giving up control, every time you have to completely relinquish control to something like a self-driving vehicle, it's something that people aren't always that keen to do. And of course, you have some of the hard-core people who just simply like driving, has nothing to do whether or not the vehicle will drive better. They simply like driving their car and don't want a computer doing it for them.

On what automakers could do to get people more comfortable with self-driving cars

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