[SURVEY] Could you fall asleep in a self-driving car?

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Taylor Covington

Content Researcher

As a qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collected, organized, and analyzed data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and be…

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Renata Balasco

Senior Content Strategist

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Renata joined The Zebra in 2020 as a Customer Experience Agent. Since 2021, she has worked as licensed insurance professional and content strategist.…

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Sleeping in a self-driving car

More than one-third of U.S. adults are sleep deprived, according to the CDC. That means a lot of us aren’t getting those vital seven hours of sleep each night. Whether it’s a hectic schedule or piling responsibilities, it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done and get a good night’s rest. 

Could self-driving cars be a solution to our sleep problem? Companies are working toward the release of cars with higher levels of autonomy that could free up drive time for activities like eating, watching a movie or taking a nap. We wanted to see if Americans would feel comfortable snoozing off in a self-driving car. 

We surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults per question and found:

— 79 percent of people would not be able to fall asleep in a self-driving car.
— 54 percent of people would do nothing except watch the road while riding in a self-driving car.

Sleeping while operating a vehicle is not seen as safe. Even in this theoretical situation, riders indicated they were not ready to doze off. Technically, fully autonomous cars (or Level 5) are still not on the road and laws regarding sleeping in one are not yet established.

Americans are unwilling to fall asleep in driverless cars

Despite spending an average of 26 minutes per day commuting and not getting enough sleep, riders would rather be backseat drivers than worry-free passengers. Our study found a majority of adults were not comfortable falling asleep in a self-driving car.


It seems autonomous technology can’t be trusted without proper supervision due to safety concerns. While fears about self-driving cars remain high (71 percent of adults), AAA reports some people are ready to take small steps toward adoption. Low-stakes situations like a theme park trolley or airport tram make people feel more comfortable with self-driving vehicles due to shorter distances and slower speeds. However, consumers’ comfort with giving up control to nap in a driverless car seems much further off.

54 percent of people only want to keep an eye on the road

While more than half of Americans would continue to monitor the road in a self-driving car, others said they would use a one-hour ride to take their eyes off the road. Most of these people would read a book or use their phones while in a self-driving car. Others would use the ride time to catch up on work, sleep, watch a movie, or even eat. 

Estimates vary on when self-driving cars will be widely adopted, but it’s not hard to envision a future where use our commute time to relax, be productive, or catch up on missed sleep.


The most popular answer for those who felt comfortable letting the self-driving car take the wheel was using the phone to talk, text or browse social media. While hands-free driving laws are supposed to deter drivers from using their devices, a separate survey conducted by The Zebra found that 10% of iPhone users admitted watching videos on YouTube while driving as did 4% of Android users. Could distracted and drowsy driving could become less common as autonomous driving technology improves?

People fear giving up control, despite human error

To better understand why Americans fear self-driving cars, Pew Research Center found that most people don’t want to give up control of their vehicles. However, when it comes to car accidents involving self-driving technology, humans are mostly to blame. Data from Axios reports that human drivers were at fault in most of the autonomous vehicle accidents.

On a larger scale, human error causes 94% of all serious car accidents on the road. Hazards like speeding, alcohol and distracted driving are human behaviors that endanger all lives on the road. No matter who — or what — is at fault, it’s clear technology alone can’t eliminate every accident.


Safety concerns involve all road users — drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and even animals. Not knowing whether the car will detect an approaching hazard can lead to fear and distrust. This inability to communicate with the machine may be one of the largest obstacles to overcome. Some car companies acknowledge this fear and are taking measures to easily convey what the car is thinking with electronic messages and screens that visualize the vehicle’s view. Other reasons why people don’t want to take a driverless vehicle include perceived lack of control, safety concerns, the simple enjoyment of driving a car, and hacking fears.


Even as technology improves, fully autonomous cars can’t always predict human behavior. To stay protected on the road, make sure you have a comprehensive car insurance policy to handle the aftermath of an incident.

This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in August 2019.

  1. Data and Statistics. CDC

  2. Move over Tesla, this self-driving car will let you sleep or watch a movie during your highway commute. CNBC

  3. Three in Four Americans Remain Afraid of Fully Self-Driving Vehicles. AAA

  4. Americans had concerns about self-driving cars before fatal Arizona accident. Pew Research Center

  5. People cause most California autonomous vehicle accidents. Axios

  6. Automated Vehicles for Safety. NHTSA

  7. What will it take for humans to trust self-driving cars? Popular Science