ArticlePDF Available

Undifferentiated optimism and scandalized accidents: the media coverage of autonomous driving in Germany


Abstract and Figures

When, to what extent and under what conditions autonomous driving will become common practice depends not only on the level of technical development but also on social acceptance. Therefore, the rapid development of autonomous driving systems raises the question of how the public perceives this technology. As the mass media are regarded as the main source of information for the lay audience, the news coverage is assumed to affect public opinion. The mass media are also frequently criticized for their inaccurate and biased news coverage. Against this backdrop, we conducted a content analysis of the news coverage of autonomous driving in five leading German newspapers. Findings show that media reporting on autonomous driving is not very detailed. They also indicate a slight positive bias in the balance of arguments and tonality. However, as soon as an accident involving an autonomous vehicle occurs, the frequency of reporting, as well as the extent of negativity and detail increase. We conclude that well-informed public opinion requires more differentiated reporting — irrespective of accidents.
Undifferentiated optimism and scandalized accidents:
the media coverage of autonomous driving in Germany
Lena Jelinski, Katrin Etzrodt and Sven Engesser
When, to what extent and under what conditions autonomous driving will
become common practice depends not only on the level of technical
development but also on social acceptance. Therefore, the rapid
development of autonomous driving systems raises the question of how
the public perceives this technology. As the mass media are regarded as
the main source of information for the lay audience, the news coverage is
assumed to affect public opinion. The mass media are also frequently
criticized for their inaccurate and biased news coverage. Against this
backdrop, we conducted a content analysis of the news coverage of
autonomous driving in five leading German newspapers. Findings show
that media reporting on autonomous driving is not very detailed. They also
indicate a slight positive bias in the balance of arguments and tonality.
However, as soon as an accident involving an autonomous vehicle occurs,
the frequency of reporting, as well as the extent of negativity and detail
increase. We conclude that well-informed public opinion requires more
differentiated reporting — irrespective of accidents.
Popularization of science and technology; Representations of science and
technology; Science and media
Submitted: 8th September 2020
Accepted: 25th March 2021
Published: 7th June 2021
Recent technological advances in the field of autonomous and automated vehicles
suggest that they may become an integral part of society. This, however, would
require the public to be adequately informed about the technology and its social
implications. In the year 2017, an ethics commission appointed by the German
Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, formulated a rule that ‘the
public has the right to be sufficiently informed about new technologies and their
use’ [Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur, 2017, p. 12]. The
public institution to provide this information is supposed to be the mass media,
which are frequently criticized for inaccurate and biased news coverage on
autonomous driving [Vellinga, 2017; Wolfers, 2017]. However, there is a lack of
empirical studies on these claims. Therefore, it is the aim of this study to put the
media reporting of autonomous driving under scrutiny. We conducted a content
Article Journal of Science Communication 20(04)(2021)A02 1
analysis of five German newspapers including the level of detail, the balance of
arguments, the tonality, and the influence of real-world accidents.
Literature review Autonomous driving
When talking about autonomous driving, it quickly becomes apparent that there is
neither ‘the’ autonomous driving itself nor a consistent terminology for it, which is
true for both the public discourse and the research literature. A variety of terms
implies multiple conceptual frameworks of vehicles that — under certain
conditions, to a certain extent, or completely — operate without the control of a
driver. Thus, frequently used terms such as ‘autonomous driving’, ‘automated
driving’, ‘driverless car’ or ‘self-driving car’ may refer to completely different
meanings depending on the given context, which may cause misconceptions [Lenz
and Fraedrich, 2015a; Vellinga, 2017; Wolfers, 2017].
There are various classification systems for the different degrees of automation of
vehicle systems: for Germany, the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) provides
a typology including level 0 (driver only), level 1 (assisted), level 2 (partial
automation), level 3 (high automation) and level 4 (full automation). Even for the
highest level of automation, the BASt still envisages a driver [Gasser et al., 2012].
Another German typology, developed by the German Association of the Automotive
Industry (VDA), corresponds to the BASt in terms of levels, terms and descriptions,
but adds another level (level 5, driverless) where no driver is required [Verband der
Automobilindustrie, 2015].
In 2014 the International On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee of the
Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) set up by the international standard for the
classification of autonomous and automated vehicles, last revised in 2018. This
typology includes six levels: level 0 (no automation), level 1 (driver assistance),
level 2 (partial automation), level 3 (conditional automation), level 4 (high
automation), level 5 (full automation) [Society of Automotive Engineers — SAE
International, 2014]. However, the terms ‘high automation’ and ‘full automation’ in
the SAE standard describe higher degrees of automation than in the German
typologies, which leads to ambiguities if researchers use these terms without
specifying which typology they address. Since different degrees of automation
entail different application possibilities, it is important to know the type of vehicle
in order to assess risks and opportunities.
Although ‘autonomous driving’ is the most popular term in the discourse, it does
not appear in the mentioned classification systems. Hence, some researchers use
this term exclusively for vehicles that can drive without a human driver, others use
it as a general term for all types of autonomous and automated vehicles. This
plethora of different terms and their ambiguous use complicates both the scientific
and the public discourse. A general definition of autonomous driving is almost
impossible. Within this paper, a broader understanding of the term is used, where
both fully autonomous vehicles (no driver necessary) and automated vehicles (a
driver is still present, even if he can give up the driving task in certain applications
or to a certain degree) are covered by the general concept of ‘autonomous driving’.
Autonomous vehicles can be used in private, in public transportation, in transport
and logistics, in agriculture, or within car-sharing and ride-sharing concepts JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 2
[Behrend and Meisel, 2017]. These different application areas enable the derivation of
more complex and concrete usage scenarios, including the combination of
application areas and automation levels in various ways and contexts, which entail
various opportunities, constraints or risks, for example with regard to the legal
framework [Wachenfeld et al., 2015; Simoni et al., 2019]. Thus, a general and
undifferentiated view on autonomous driving is rarely adequate. Rather it is
necessary to consider autonomous and automated driving in the context of
different degrees of automation, application areas, and concrete usage scenarios.
Regarding the ambiguous use of terms, and the absence of uniform definitions for
the different levels of automation and the complexity of usage contexts,
unsurprisingly the public knowledge about autonomous driving is still low [König
and Neumayr, 2017, p. 46; Schoettle and Sivak, 2014], and different understandings
as well as a lack of knowledge about usage scenarios exist [Haboucha, Ishaq and
Shiftan, 2017].
Anticipated opportunities and risks, as well as catalyzers and obstacles play an
important role for the development and market launch of autonomous vehicles.
Studies on the acceptance of autonomous driving [Haboucha, Ishaq and Shiftan,
2017; König and Neumayr, 2017] show that high expectations are accompanied by
a high degree of concern, especially regarding safety aspects, which are also widely
discussed among scientists [Kalra and Paddock, 2016; Schlag, 2016].
Media coverage of science and technology
Both the research on technology as well as its mass media coverage has increased
over the past years [Schäfer, 2012; Summ and Volpers, 2016]. Mass media serve as
facilitators between scientific research and society [Schäfer, 2012]. Studies in the
fields of nanotechnology [Lee and Scheufele, 2006] and biotechnology [Besley and
Shanahan, 2005; Brossard and Nisbet, 2007] indicate that the way new technology
is represented can impact the public opinion about this technology. Especially in
the early development stage of new technologies, media coverage provides basic
heuristics to recipients who have little or no direct experience with the technology
[Scheufele and Lewenstein, 2005; Nisbet, Brossard and Kroepsch, 2003]. It is
plausible that this also applies to the emerging technology of autonomous driving.
An important aspect in this context is the question of the coverage’s quality. In a
democracy, the media fulfill certain functions that are fundamental to that society.
From a normative perspective, it is essential that citizens have an opportunity to
inform themselves about topics, content and processes [Yeo et al., 2015, p. 172]. To
create a knowledge base for a societal discourse on science and new technologies,
journalists must therefore provide sufficient information. Moreover, mass media
create a public sphere, which is an essential prerequisite for democratic
participation and the formation of attitudes and opinions. They provide a space for
the articulation of different opinions and arguments, create transparency and
enable discursive exchange [Scheufele, 2014, p. 122]. Modern approaches such as
‘knowledge-based journalism’ [van Witsen and Takahashi, 2018, p. 727] reflect the
demand for differentiated and detailed knowledge about science and new
technologies. Hence, the level of detail and the presentation of different positions
and arguments can be regarded as essential criteria of quality for news coverage on
new technologies such as autonomous driving. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 3
However, how balanced the presentation of different positions and arguments
should be and what balance means, in this case, is highly debatable. Hagen [1995]
defines balance as the equal consideration of opponents and supporters in a
controversy. He considers five dimensions in which balance can be measured:
evaluations, arguments, actors, sources, and topics. Closely related is the criterion
of diversity, where diversity is a number and balance is a ratio. However, there is
disagreement about whether all existing positions and arguments should be
included to the same extent to meet the balance criterion. As Boykoff and Boykoff
[2004] point out, balance in the sense of an equally weighted representation may
also lead to bias: by using the example of climate change, they explain that,
especially in the case of scientific topics, the equal treatment of positions, which are
not equally valid in scientific discourse, leads to a so-called ‘false balance’ [p. 126].
This false balance is supported by other studies, which point out that the media
coverage of scientific facts and technologies does not always correspond to the
prevailing opinion in science [e.g., Boykoff and Boykoff, 2007; Engesser and
Brüggemann, 2016; Maurer, 2011; Zeh and Odén, 2014].
Thus, research on media coverage of science and technology primarily links
balance to the evaluative dimension of balance, that is, whether the report is
negatively or positively biased: therefore, the ratio or the number of presented
opportunities and risks is used as a benchmark [e.g., Bubela and Caulfield, 2004;
Kepplinger, 1989; Zimmer, Hertel and Böl, 2008]. However, the evaluative bias of
reporting about technology is ambivalent. Whereas some early studies uncovered a
negative bias in articles on [e.g., Kepplinger, 1990], more recent studies found a
positive, uncritical, and less controversial bias [Elmer, Badenschier and Wormer,
2008]. Other studies found more balanced, neutral, or fact-based coverage in both
earlier [e.g., Dunwoody and Peters, 1992; Peters, 1995] and more recent reports
[Summ and Volpers, 2016]. Yet, there are factors that may influence the bias in
reporting: the field of science, the reported technology and key events like
accidents or catastrophes. Whereas nanotechnology is mostly presented in a
positive bias [Haslinger et al., 2012; Metag and Marcinkowski, 2014], green genetic
engineering is evaluated critically [Marks et al., 2007]. Reporting on nuclear energy
is influenced by reactor accidents and has changed from predominantly positive to
risk-oriented over time [Kepplinger and Lemke, 2014; Nienierza, 2014].
In contrast, the accuracy and the level of detail concerning the coverage of science
and technology provides less controversial results: in general, media coverage on
technology is superficial, inaccurate and low in detail with regard to technical and
scientific details [Peters, 1995] or research background and methodology [Hijmans,
Pleijter and Wester, 2003]. Racine et al. [2010], as well as van Atteveldt et al. [2014]
distinguished different levels of detail, applied them to reporting on neuroscience,
and concluded that the coverage has a rather low level of detail. On average,
articles mentioned only one out of four relevant details [van Atteveldt et al., 2014].
Autonomous driving in the media
Research knows comparatively little about the media coverage of autonomous
driving. The fact that the majority of citizens obtains information on autonomous
driving from the mass media is well-known [Lenz and Fraedrich, 2015b] and
various authors refer to media coverage as an indicator of increased public
attention for autonomous driving [Kaur and Rampersad, 2018; Simoni et al., 2019]. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 4
With respect to differentiated and biased media coverage, mostly unsupported
hypotheses and speculations exist so far. Some researchers assume a positive and
euphoric bias [Beiker, 2015; Schlag, 2016], whereas others point out that
scandalization, for example in the case of accidents, may decrease acceptance
[Grunwald, 2015; Fleischer and Schippl, 2018]. Mass media would use definitions
and terms differently, and potentials, risks and challenges would remain unclear.
Explicit information on usage scenarios and automation levels would rarely be
provided [Lenz and Fraedrich, 2015a]. There are recurring demands for an open,
transparent, and discursive public debate, which would facilitate the acceptance
and concrete design of autonomous driving and future mobility [Grunwald, 2015;
Lenz and Fraedrich, 2015a]. However, there is a dearth of studies, analyzing the
media representation of autonomous driving.
In a qualitative analysis of articles published in April and May 2016, Diehl and
Diehl [2018] identified five typical argumentation patterns in the media discourse
on autonomous driving, which focused on the topics (in-)security, driving,
technology, data security and quality of life. In their cluster analysis of 540 German
newspaper and magazine articles (published between 2014 and 2017), Taddicken
and colleagues [2020] found that autonomous driving was depicted primarily in
the context of technology and economics. However, in four out of five clusters,
between one out of three and half of the articles lacked information about the
degree of automation. Although automation was primarily positive framed, the
number of positive evaluations decreased after an accident.
Another study on the influence of positive and negative information on the
willingness to drive autonomous vehicles underlines the importance of article
headings: people who were exposed to positive headlines expressed a higher
willingness to use autonomous cars than those who received negative headlines
[Anania et al., 2018].
The present paper bridges the described gap in research on autonomous driving by
investigating whether the media coverage contributes to the public information as
demanded by the German ethics commission. In particular, we address the level of
detail and bias, and influences on these aspects:
RQ 1: How differentiated is autonomous driving presented in media coverage
regarding its scientific and technical aspects?
RQ 2: To what extent is the news coverage about autonomous driving biased?
a) . . . regarding the balance of arguments?
b) . . . regarding the tonality?
RQ 3: Which factors influence the level of detail and the bias of the coverage on
autonomous driving? What influence do real-world accidents have on the
Method In autumn 2018, we conducted a standardized content analysis of media coverage
on autonomous driving in the German daily newspapers Frankfurter Allgemeine JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 5
Zeitung (FAZ) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), as well as in the online newspapers
Spiegel Online (SPON), and Zeit Online between 1 May 2017 and
31 October 2018. The period of study was chosen in order to complement the
current state of research on systematic quantitative content analysis of German
newspaper coverage of autonomous driving [see Taddicken et al., 2020], as it
covers the time up to June 2017.
Autonomous driving became a topic of interest in the German media only a few
years ago. Therefore, the selection of newspapers is based on the assumption that,
at the beginning of a topic-setting process, leading media take on a guiding and
orienting function for journalists and other media and are influencing the public
topic agenda [Bönisch, 2006; Krüger, 2013; Wilke, 2009]. Süddeutsche Zeitung,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,Der Spiegel and DIE ZEIT [D’Inka, 2010;
Weischenberg, Malik and Scholl, 2006] and Bild [Künzler, 2017] have a wide reach
and are considered to be media of record in Germany as are their online derivatives
[Bönisch, 2006; Krüger, 2013; Beckert and Riehm, 2013]. The inclusion of print and
online media, as well as one tabloid newspaper aims at reflecting a broader
spectrum of the German media landscape.
The sample includes all 359 articles which were found under the keyword
‘autonomous driving’ and collected through the F.A.Z. Bibliotheksportal (FAZ), the
LibraryNet archive (SZ) and the search function embedded in the website (SPON,, Zeit Online). The sample included journalistic contributions, such as news
articles, columns, reports but also interviews. We excluded articles covering other
main topics as well as articles dealing exclusively with autonomous rail vehicles,
ships, or aircraft. We excluded articles referring to autonomous driving solely with
one sentence or in a few words, because the demand for detailed and balanced
reporting on autonomous driving cannot be made for articles that do not elaborate
at least to a small amount on the topic. Advertising and sponsored articles were
also excluded.
The codebook based on publications about autonomous driving from different
fields of research (traffic science, engineering) and research in the field of science
and technology reporting. After an initial pretest with a sample of 30 articles
(percent agreement =.82; Cohen’s kappa =.64), two categories were excluded and
five categories (visual presentation, risks, catalyzers, obstacles, demands) were
revised. The two excluded categories were intended to ascertain whether the
coverage made a man-machine comparison (Cohen’s kappa =.60) and whether an
assessment of the obstacles was available (e.g., “surmountable” or
“insurmountable”) (Cohen’s kappa =.26). They were excluded, as sufficient
intersubjective comprehensibility cannot be ensured for them. In a second
reliability test, acceptable values for all categories were achieved (percent
agreement =.95; Cohen’s kappa =.86).
Level of detail was defined by the amount and diversity of scientific information
about autonomous driving: the more different details an article contained, the more
detailed it was rated. Up to date, there are no systematic empirical comparative
values. The index was therefore calibrated from a normative point of view, based JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 6
on the following assumption: the more different types of details and information
are provided (e.g., scientific sources, illustrations, technical explanations), the more
comprehensive is the depiction of technology and therefore, the broader the
knowledge base that the article conveys to the recipient.
For this purpose, a list of relevant details about autonomous driving was compiled
based on a comprehensive literature search. As shown in Table 1, four variables
measured the level of detail: mentioning an official classification system, mentioning
a level of automation, usage of official technical terms and literal description. In
addition, it was recorded whether information about tests of autonomous vehicles,
application areas, usage scenarios and scientific sources were given, if the
technological components of autonomous vehicles were explained, and how
extensive this explanation was. The existence of visual presentations with a direct
reference to autonomous driving was also included. From this, an average index
was composed by adding the points and subsequently dividing them by the
number of items. A similar approach was used by van Atteveldt et al. [2014] to
build an Accuracy Score and by Hijmans, Pleijter and Wester [2003] in the formation
of an Information Index.
The bias of the coverage was identified in two ways: first, all arguments presented
in the article were coded: optimistic arguments emphasized opportunities and
Table 1. Composition of the level of detail index.
Items Level of detail
Degree of automation
Official classification system 0 = not mentioned
0.25 = at least one mentioned
Level of automation 0 = not mentioned
0.25 = at least one mentioned
Technical term 0 = not mentioned
0.25 = at least one mentioned
Linguistic description 0 = no
0.25 = yes
Application area 0 = not mentioned
1 = at least one mentioned
Test of autonomous vehicles 0 = not mentioned
0.5 = short reference
1 = detailed description
Usage scenario 0 = not mentioned
1 = at least one mentioned
Explanation of technology 0 = no explanation
0.25 = very short explanation
0.5 = rather short explanation
0.75 = rather extensive explanation
1 = extensive explanation
Scientific sources 0 = not mentioned
1 = at least one mentioned
Visual presentation 0 = no
1 = yes JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 7
catalyzers, whereas pessimistic arguments highlighted risks and obstacles.
Subsequently, the ratio of optimistic to pessimistic arguments per article was
computed to determine the balance of the arguments.
Second, the tonality was measured both for the heading and the entire article.
A categorization as positive, negative, ambivalent or neutral was made based on
the evaluative statements formulated either by the author or within quotations.
Evaluations of autonomous driving could be expressed in the form of positive or
negative adjectives, metaphors or comparisons. A positive evaluation was
recorded when autonomous driving was presented as desirable, for example
through formulations such as ‘important key technology’ or ‘magic technology’.
The evaluation was negative when formulations such as ‘futuristic nightmare’ or
‘death algorithm’ were used, presenting autonomous driving as bad and
dangerous. If both positive and negative evaluations were found in the article, it
was classified as ambivalent.
Newspaper, source, form of presentation, topic, length and occurrence of accidents were
considered as influencing factors on level of detail and bias. To identify the impact
of accidents, routinely published articles were distinguished from those that
appeared within 14 days after an accident.
Results In total, 359 articles in the newspapers under study reported on autonomous
driving between May 2017 and October 2018. As shown in Figure 1, during this
period, there is no significant trend in the number of articles. The higher number of
articles in September 2017, January and March 2018 can most probably be
attributed to accidents involving autonomous or automated vehicles that occurred
during these months. On 22 January 2018, a Tesla with automated driving
functions collided with a parking fire truck. In March 2018, two accidents with
severe injury to humans occurred: on 18 March 2018, an Uber test vehicle, and on
23 March 2018, a Tesla were involved in deadly accidents.
Figure 1. Number of articles over time. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 8
Level of detail
The average level of detail in the articles is low (M=.27; SD =.18, scale from 0 to 1),
which does not differ considerably among different newspapers. Ten percent
(n=34) of the articles do not provide any scientific details. Regarding the degree
of automation, a plethora of terms is used. In sum 350 different terms, such as
‘self-driving bus’ (‘selbstfahrender Bus’), ‘robot’ (‘Roboter’), ‘semi-autonomous’
(‘semiautonom’), ‘autarkic driving’ (‘autark fahrend’) or neologisms like
‘self-steering car’ (‘Selbstlenkauto’) complicate the identification of the type of
autonomous or automated vehicle involved in these articles.
We identified four relevant types of information about the degree of automation. The
most frequently used type to describe the degree of automation within an article is
the literal description (50%, n=180) which explains, for example, which driving
function is performed by the driver and which by the system. In 22% (n=80)
official technical terms are used, such as ‘high automation’ or ‘conditional
automation’ (Figure 6 in the appendix), while 10% (n=40) mention at least one
official level of automation, mainly ‘level 3’ (Figure 7 in the appendix). However, only
two articles refer to specific classification systems, which are also the only ones that
contain all four details. In 42% (n=151) the degree of automation is not even
The majority of articles (71%, n=253) does not explain the function of autonomous
and automated vehicle systems (Figure 2). If any explanation is given, it is mostly
very short, meaning the explanation contains only a few words or a single sentence
rather than a differentiated explanation of different components (17%, n=61).
Figure 2. Explanation of autonomous driving in percent (%).
Specific application areas of automated and autonomous vehicles are mentioned in
52% of all articles, most frequently referred to as ‘robot taxi’ (25%), ‘private car
(15%), or ‘public transport’ (13%) (Figure 8 in the appendix). Scenarios that include
the embedding of autonomous driving in more complex mobility concepts (for
example autonomous valet parking, platooning or smart city) are hardly discussed
(13%, n=47).
Tonality and balance of arguments
As shown in Figure 3, the tonality within the heading (70%, n=251) and within
the entire article (74%, n=264) is predominantly neutral. If the tonality is not
neutral, the tonality of the heading tends to be negative, while the tonality within
the article turns out to be more positive. Thus, readers who only notice the
headlines get a more negative impression of autonomous driving than those who
read the whole article. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 9
Figure 3. Tonality of the heading (above) and within the article (below) in percent (%).
Concerning the arguments in the whole article, optimism predominates (Figure 4).
Since the ratio of optimistic to pessimistic arguments per article were computed to
determine the balance of the arguments, this analysis only refers to articles in
which at least one argument is mentioned (N=311). First, the mean difference
between the frequency of optimistic and pessimistic arguments is 0.83 (SD =1.96,
N=311). Second, while 59% (n=210) of all articles mention at least one
opportunity, only 35% (n=126) of all articles mention one or more risks. If
catalyzers and obstacles are mentioned, the optimistic perspective predominates
here as well with references to catalyzers in 42% (n=152) of all articles in contrast
to references to obstacles in 31% (n=110).
Figure 4. Balance of arguments as difference between the frequencies of optimistic and
pessimistic arguments.
Besides the balance of arguments, we analyzed the contents of the individual
arguments (Figures 9 and 10 in the appendix): the majorities of arguments
regarding both opportunities (27%, n=98) and risks (18%, n=64) emphasize
safety issues. If mentioned, economy is the most important catalyzer (30%,
n=109), whereas the legal situation is seen as the most important obstacle (16%,
n=56, Figures 11 and 12 in the appendix).
Influencing factors
There is no theoretical evidence suggesting a correlation between the level of detail
and the balance of arguments and both variables correlate very weakly (r=.11,
p<.05, N=311). Therefore, two multiple linear regression analyses were JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 10
performed with the dummy coded non-metric variables medium, source, journalistic
form of presentation and topic.
The level of detail is predicted by the factors topic,newspaper,source,form of
presentation and occurrence of accidents (explained variance =31%, F(18.332) = 9.56,
p<.001) in an OLS regression, with topic as the most important influence (Table 2
in the appendix). The length is the only factor that does not contribute to the
explanation of variance. Due to the dichotomous coding of the variables, the
non-standardized regression coefficients indicate the difference to the mean of the
reference category. Articles focusing on the topic technology and progress are
significantly more differentiated than articles on all other topics, except traffic.
Overall, the politics/law domain displays the lowest level of detail. However, if an
article is published after the occurrence of an accident, the level of detail increases
The balance of arguments is solely predicted by the topic (explained variance =19%,
F(7.303) = 9.85, p<.001) in an OLS regression (Table 3 in the appendix). Articles
on the subject of technology and progress contain, on average, more optimistic than
pessimistic arguments (B=1.07). Articles focusing on traffic are even more
optimistic (B=2.01). Politics/law, and economics also show an optimistic bias, as
they do not significantly differ from the reference group. In contrast, safety
(B=1.42) and ethics (B=1.82) have a significantly more pessimistic bias.
Although accidents do not affect the balance of arguments in the article, they do
alter the tonality (Figure 5). In the direct aftermath (within 14 days) of an accident
the overall tone is considerably more negative than during a regular period, which
is more strongly the case for the heading of the article, (Cramer’s V=.228, p<.01,
N=359) but also occurs within the entire article (Cramer’s V=.153, p<.05,
Figure 5. Tonality of the heading in regular time and in the period after an accident (14
days). JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 11
Discussion On average, the analyzed media coverage about autonomous driving featured only
limited scientific details, which is consistent to previous research on science and
technology coverage [van Atteveldt et al., 2014; Hijmans, Pleijter and Wester, 2003;
Racine et al., 2010]. It can be concluded that the mass media do not provide enough
information for the recipients to gain a sufficient understanding of autonomous
driving. Our content analysis supports the fear expressed by various authors
[Vellinga, 2017; Wolfers, 2017] that a major problem of the public discourse on this
new technology lies in the lack of detail concerning the degree of autonomy, the
used terms, and possible usage scenarios. However, the length of the article has no
influence on the amount of scientific details. Hence, very long articles do not
necessarily contain many details.
Although, not every single article can be expected to contain all scientific and
technical details, the overall coverage should present a complete and differentiated
picture of the new technology. Moreover, essential details, e.g., on the degree of
autonomy are needed to adequately understand the individual and social impact of
this technology. In particular, more than 40% of articles do not contain any
information on the degree of automation of their featured. Although the official
classification systems of the VDA and the BASt in Germany, as well as the SAE
international standard provide detailed overviews, the examined articles almost
never mentioned them. Media reporting synonymously used terms as ‘high
automation’ and ‘full automation’ although they have different meanings,
depending on the underlying classification system. In this way, a differentiated
public debate of this complex and multi-layered technology is rendered more
difficult, even more so by the multitude of ambiguous terms we identified.
However, this is not exclusively a problem of news coverage. As already mentioned
above, in the scientific discourse, different terms are used synonymously as well.
In accordance to Haboucha and colleagues [2017], we uncovered a lack of detail in
presenting application areas and different usage scenarios. Although about half of
all articles mentioned application areas, the media focuses on the use as ‘robot taxi’
and omits other aspects, such as applications in agriculture or in the context of
holistic new urban mobility concepts. While usage scenarios are already an integral
part of the scientific discourse, the majority of the articles under study do not
mention any of them. A higher level of detail between different terms with regard
to different development stages, levels of automation, and usage contexts would
provide a fundament for substantial discussions about risks and potentials of this
technology. Moreover, considering the relatively limited knowledge about
autonomous driving among the population [König and Neumayr, 2017; Schoettle
and Sivak, 2014], the undifferentiated coverage seems particularly critical
regarding the adoption of this technology.
The level of detail of the article, however, depends on its topic. Articles on
technology, progress, and traffic are more detailed than articles on other topics.
Nonetheless, scientific details are also important for political, economic, ethical and
safety issues. To be able to discuss problems in the mentioned areas, it is necessary
to know basic facts about the type and function of autonomous vehicle systems.
A lower level of detail in other topics compared to technology and progress is thus
disadvantageous. Although, after accidents with autonomous or automated
vehicles, the level of detail increases, this phenomenon vanishes shortly after the
event. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 12
Although, the media coverage may not be very detailed in regard of autonomous
vehicles, it is slightly optimistically biased. Positive arguments dominate, even
though pessimistic arguments are not completely neglected. Ambivalent
arguments — at least of the safety issue — can also be found in many acceptance
studies [Haboucha, Ishaq and Shiftan, 2017; König and Neumayr, 2017] and in the
scientific discourse on opportunities and risks of autonomous driving [Kalra and
Paddock, 2016; Schlag, 2016; Diehl and Diehl, 2018]. In addition, the tonality is
predominantly positive or neutral, albeit not as strong as for the balance of
arguments. Although, Taddicken and colleagues [2020] found a similar positive
bias, according to our study, the positivism is accompanied by considerably more
neutral articles.
A generally negative and critical attitude of the media, as described, for example,
by Kepplinger [1990], cannot be found for the reporting on autonomous driving in
this study. Although the overall presentation is rather optimistic, there is no clearly
positive or largely uncritical presentation of the technology, as in the field of
nanotechnology [Haslinger et al., 2012; Metag and Marcinkowski, 2014]. In
contrast, the headings are even frequently negative. In light of the results provided
by Anania and colleagues [2018] who found that reading negative headline lowers
the willingness to drive an autonomous vehicle, this could have a negative impact
on acceptance of autonomous driving.
However, the rather optimistic bias in coverage does not apply to all areas and
under all circumstances. While the coverage under the topics technology and
progress, politics/law and economics are primarily optimistic and articles on traffic
are even more optimistic, those on ethics and safety emphasize more risks and
Although speculations about the creation of irrational fears [e.g., Grunwald, 2015;
Fleischer and Schippl, 2018] cannot be confirmed in general by our analysis, there
are a few impacting factors. First, accidents with automated or autonomous cars
increase the frequency and negativity of the coverage — the latter in particular
within the headlines. Thus, accidents could lead to a sudden reinterpretation of
autonomous driving in public discourse, and should therefore be given special
attention in research. Second, especially in regard on ethics and safety issues, the
pessimistic and negative tone dominates while at the same time a differentiated
representation of the technology is absent, which could potentially contribute to
the mentioned feeling of negativism in the debate.
Limitations The paper at hand is [besides Taddicken et al., 2020] one of the first quantitative
content analyses of media reporting on autonomous driving, therefore, has some
limitations. Since there are no comparable studies to date, the index ‘level of detail’
is based on studies from the field of nanotechnology and an extensive literature
search in the field of autonomous driving. To achieve the most valid
operationalization of level of detail, further efforts should be taken to identify
relevant details for autonomous driving. Furthermore, the details were only
examined for their occurrence, but not for the correctness of the information in the
media coverage. Future research could address this research gap and examine to
what extent the information presented in the articles is correct. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 13
The topic of autonomous driving is still relatively new; social and technical
developments will continue to progress in the future; thus, its reporting is also in a
constant state of change. Thus, the paper represents a snapshot of the reporting
situation for the five most influencing — though by no means exclusive —
newspapers prior to the (widespread) launch of autonomous driving. We focused
on the specific keyword ‘autonomous driving’. However, as we uncovered, a wide
variety of terms are used to describe autonomous vehicles. It is possible, therefore,
that we did not find all articles published on this topic. Further research should
take this into account and include additional synonyms as keywords.
This study focused on the coverage in Germany. Comparative, international
studies can provide important indications as to whether cultural differences, for
example about the social status of the car or the openness towards new
technologies, have an influence on the reporting.
Conclusion Although there is variety among topics, neither the different types of autonomous
and automated vehicles are sufficiently depicted, nor comprehensive information
on their technical aspects has been given. However, to support the public
understanding of this new technology, a more detailed reporting on scientific in all
areas is required.
Neither dramatically pessimistic nor unconditionally optimistic reporting seems
appropriate. Indeed, the high number of articles without evaluation suggests that
autonomous driving has not been a controversial subject in the media so far. One
reason for this might be a lack of perceived affectedness, since autonomous driving
has not (yet) become part of people’s daily lives. However, recipients who only
read the headlines or consult ethic or safety topics may gain a more negative
impression — almost exclusively related to the safety of autonomous driving. This
negative image may intensify through the negative media coverage after accidents
involving autonomous vehicles, diminishing the positive effects of increased level
of detail.
Because autonomous driving is likely to gain relevance in the near future,
acceptance and communication processes are highly relevant for the
implementation and development of future mobility scenarios. It is not yet decided
what our mobility will look like in the next decades and which technologies,
scenarios, and concepts will prevail. Currently, vehicles ranked at levels 1 to 3 of
automation are already being used. To what extent fully automated vehicles will be
deployed in the future and whether further differentiation of the previous levels is
required remains uncertain at this point. As described above, democratic decisions
depend on knowledge of the current state of technological developments and the
relevant positions. If the coverage does neither adequately represent the
technology nor the associated positions, overestimating consequences becomes
more likely, and democratic decisions — based on rational knowledge — become
impossible. Citizens must be able to make informed decisions regarding different
mobility options and technologies. The assessment of consequences depends on
understanding the technology’s basics and their positive and negative impact. In
its role of providing a public sphere, forming opinions and acceptance, journalism
will have to adequately present this complex technology of autonomous driving for
ordinary consumers, who find it increasingly difficult to understand. It is by no JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 14
means an easy task for journalism. Nevertheless, studies like ours can assist in
readjustment and, in time, provide benchmarks for adequate reporting on this
topic. This is particularly relevant for a so-called disruptive technology like
autonomous driving, which is presumed to have a sustainable impact not only on
mobility but also on urban architecture.
This is why communication scholars are called upon to address this subject more
closely. Questions that need to be addressed are: to what extent does a lack of detail
in media coverage cause recipients to develop false conceptions of autonomous
driving? How does the bias in coverage alter people’s perceptions and attitudes
towards this new technology? Moreover, do accidents damage the image of
autonomous vehicles? A further focus of future research could be on scenarios,
which include the embedding of autonomous driving in more complex mobility
concepts like smart cities.
Appendix A.
Figure 6. Frequency of official technical terms (multiple answers, all official technical terms
mentioned in the article). JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 15
Figure 7. Frequency of levels of automation (multiple answers, all levels mentioned in the
Figure 8. Frequency of application areas (multiple answers, all areas mentioned in the art-
Figure 9. Frequency of opportunities (multiple answers, all opportunities mentioned in the
article). JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 16
Figure 10. Frequency of risks (multiple answers, all risks mentioned in the article).
Figure 11. Frequency of catalyzers (multiple answers, all catalyzers mentioned in the art-
Figure 12. Frequency of obstacles (multiple answers, all obstacles mentioned in the article). JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 17
Table 2. OLS regression analysis (criterion ‘level of detail’).
Model 1 (n=351) Model 2 (n=351) Model 3 (n=351) Model 4 (n=351) Model 5 (n=351) Model 6 (n=351)
B SE βB SE βB SE βB SE βB SE βB SE β
(Intercept) 0.40 0.15 0.34 0.02 0.34 0.02 0.38 0.03 0.38 0.03 0.36 0.04
Topic (reference group: technology and progress)
Ambiguous 0.16 *** 0.04 .20 0.16 *** 0.04 .20 0.15 *** 0.04 .18 0.14 *** 0.04 .18 0.16 *** 0.04 .20 0.16 *** 0.04 .20
Economics 0.20 *** 0.02 .49 0.18 *** 0.02 .45 0.17 *** 0.02 .43 0.17 *** 0.02 .42 0.17 *** 0.02 .41 0.17 *** 0.02 .41
Politics/law 0.26 *** 0.04 .34 0.26 *** 0.04 .33 0.22 *** 0.04 .29 0.22 *** 0.04 .28 0.22 *** 0.04 .29 0.22 *** 0.04 .29
Security 0.16 *** 0.03 .27 0.16 *** 0.03 .27 0.15 *** 0.03 .26 0.14 *** 0.03 .24 0.17 *** 0.03 .28 0.17 *** 0.03 .28
Traffic 0.10 * 0.05 .10 0.10 * 0.05 .11 0.11 * 0.05 .11 0.10 * 0.05 .10 0.09 0.05 .09 0.09 * 0.05 .10
Ethics 0.16 *** 0.04 .18 0.17 *** 0.04 .18 0.15 ** 0.04 .17 0.14 ** 0.04 .15 0.13 ** 0.04 .15 0.14 ** 0.04 .15
Others 0.20 *** 0.04 .27 0.19 *** 0.04 .25 0.18 *** 0.04 .24 0.18 *** 0.04 .24 0.18 *** 0.04 .24 0.18 *** 0.04 .24
Newspaper (reference group: FAZ)
Bild 0.07 ** 0.03 .16 0.09 ** 0.03 .18 0.08 * 0.03 .17 0.08 ** 0.03 .18 0.09 ** 0.03 .19
Spiegel Online 0.08 ** 0.03 .19 0.11 *** 0.03 .24 0.10 *** 0.03 .24 0.10 ** 0.03 .23 0.10 ** 0.03 .22
Zeit Online 0.08 ** 0.03 .15 0.08 ** 0.03 .17 0.08 ** 0.03 .17 0.09 ** 0.03 .18 0.09 ** 0.03 .17
SZ 0.06 * 0.03 .13 0.06 * 0.03 .13 0.07 * 0.03 .14 0.07 * 0.03 .14 0.06 * 0.03 .13
Source (reference group: staff written)
Not mentioned 0.02 0.04 .03 0.01 0.04 .01 0.01 0.04 .01 0.01 0.04 .01
News agency 0.09 * 0.04 .11 0.09 * 0.04 .11 0.10 * 0.04 .11 0.10 * 0.04 .11
Hybrid form 0.07 * 0.03 .14 0.07 * 0.03 .13 0.07 * 0.03 .13 0.06 * 0.03 .12
Form of presentation (reference group: background report)
News 0.05 * 0.03 .13 0.06 * 0.03 .14 0.05 0.03 .13
Interview 0.05 0.04 .07 0.06 0.04 .08 0.06 0.04 .08
Column 0.10 ** 0.04 .15 0.11 ** 0.04 .17 0.11 * 0.04 .16
yes 0.07 ** 0.03 .13 0.07 ** 0.03 .14
Length 0.00 0.00 0.03
Adjusted R2.25*** .27*** .28*** .29*** .31*** .30***
adj. R2.26*** .03* .02* .02* .01** .00
Notes. *p<.05; ** p<.01; *** p<.001. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 18
Table 3. OLS regression analysis (criterion: ‘balance of arguments’).
Model 1 (n=311) Model 2 (n=311) Model 3 (n=351) Model 4 (n=351) Model 5 (n=351) Model 6 (n=351)
B SE βB SE βB SE βB SE βB SE βB SE β
(Intercept) 1.01 0.18 1.01 0.28 0.96 0.28 1.25 0.38 1.25 0.38 1.67 0.48
Topic (reference group: technology and progress)
Ambiguous 0.70 0.50 .07 0.66 0.50 .07 .63 0.51 .07 0.60 0.51 .07 0.55 0.52 .06 0.46 0.52 .05
Economics 0.32 0.26 .08 0.33 0.26 .08 0.39 0.26 .09 0.36 0.27 .09 0.36 0.27 .09 0.40 0.27 .09
Politics/law 0.07 0.45 .01 0.10 0.46 .01 0.18 0.48 .02 0.20 0.48 .03 0.22 0.48 .03 0.21 0.48 .03
Security 1.63 *** 0.34 .28 1.65 *** 0.34 .28 1.55 *** 0.35 .26 1.50 *** 0.35 .25 1.42 *** 0.38 .24 1.41 *** 0.38 .24
Traffic 1.90 *** 0.54 .20 1.97 *** 0.55 .20 1,97 *** 0.55 .20 2.03 *** 0.56 .20 2.01 *** 0.56 .20 2.01 *** 0.56 .21
Ethics 1.90 *** 0.52 .19 1.92 *** 0.53 .20 1, 87 *** 0.53 .20 1.80 ** 0.54 .19 1.82 ** 0.54 .19 1.73 ** 0.54 .18
Others 1.19 * 0.46 .14 1.19 * 0.47 .14 1, 09 * 0.47 .13 1.10 * 0.48 .13 1.10 * 0.48 .13 1.10 * 0.48 .13
Newspaper (reference group: FAZ)
Bild 0.00 0.33 .00 0.24 0.39 .05 0.21 0.40 .04 0.19 0.40 .04 0.08 0.41 .02
Spiegel Online 0.18 0.31 .04 0.45 0.34 .10 0.42 0.35 .09 0.44 0.35 .10 0.52 0.35 .11
Zeit Online 0.13 0.34 .02 0.23 0.35 .04 0.21 0.35 .04 0.19 0.35 .04 0.26 0.36 .05
SZ 0.27 0.32 .06 0.25 0.32 .05 0.22 0.32 .05 0.22 0.32 .05 0.18 0.32 .04
Source (reference group: staff written)
Not mentioned 0.57 0.51 .08 0.65 0.52 .08 0.57 0.52 .08 0.57 0.52 .08
News agency 0.19 0.56 .02 0.21 0.56 .02 0.17 0.57 .02 0.27 0.57 .03
Hybrid form 0.65 0.35 .12 0.64 0.38 .11 0.65 0.38 .11 0.84 0.40 .15
Form of presentation (reference group: background report)
News 0.29 0.33 .07 0.27 0.33 .07 0.46 0.35 .11
Interview 0.07 0.50 .01 0.05 0.50 .01 0.06 0.50 .01
Column 0.83 0.43 .13 0.80 0.43 .12 0.92 0.44 .14
yes 0.20 0.32 .04 0.23 0.32 .04
Length 0.00 0.00 0.10
Adjusted R2.17*** .17*** .17*** .18*** .17*** .17***
adj. R2.19*** .01 .01 .01 .00 .00
Notes. *p<.05; ** p<.01; *** p<.001. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 19
References Anania, E. C., Rice, S., Walters, N. W., Pierce, M., Winter, S. R. and Milner, M. N.
(2018). ‘The effects of positive and negative information on consumers’
willingness to ride in a driverless vehicle’. Transport Policy 72, pp. 218–224.
Beckert, B. and Riehm, U. (2013). Breitbandversorgung, Medienkonvergenz,
Leitmedien: Strukturwandel der Massenmedien und Herausforderungen für
die Medienpolitik. Berlin, Germany: Ed. Sigma.
Behrend, M. and Meisel, F. (2017). ‘Sharing Economy im Kontext urbaner
Mobilität’. In: Innovative Produkte und Dienstleistungen in der Mobilität.
Technische und betriebswirtschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by H. Proff and
T. M. Fojcik. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer Gabler, pp. 335–346.
Beiker, S. A. (2015). ‘Implementierung eines selbstfahrenden und individuell
abrufbaren Personentransportsytems’. In: Autonomes Fahren. Technische,
rechtliche und gesellschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes,
B. Lenz and H. Winner. Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Vieweg,
pp. 287–307.
Besley, J. C. and Shanahan, J. (2005). ‘Media attention and exposure in relation to
support for agricultural biotechnology’. Science Communication 26 (4),
pp. 347–367.
Bönisch, J. (2006). Meinungsführer oder Populärmedium? Das journalistische Profil
von “Spiegel Online”. Berlin, Germany: LIT.
Boykoff, M. T. and Boykoff, J. M. (2004). ‘Balance as bias: global warming and the
US prestige press’. Global Environmental Change 14 (2), pp. 125–136.
(2007). ‘Climate change and journalistic norms: a case-study of US mass-media
coverage’. Geoforum 38 (6), pp. 1190–1204.
Brossard, D. and Nisbet, M. C. (2007). ‘Deference to scientific authority among a
low information public: understanding U.S. opinion on agricultural
biotechnology’. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 19 (1), pp. 24–52.
Bubela, T. M. and Caulfield, T. A. (2004). ‘Do the print media “hype” genetic
research? A comparison of newspaper stories and peer-reviewed research
papers’. Canadian Medical Association Journal 170 (9), pp. 1399–1407.
Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (2017).
Ethik-Kommission Automatisiertes und Vernetztes Fahren. Bericht Juni 2017.
D’Inka, W. (2010). ‘Leitmedien und Krisen-Journalismus — eine
Rollenverschiebung?’ In: Medienwandel durch Digitalisierung und Krise. Eine
vergleichende Analyse zwischen Russland und Deutschland. Ed. by
M. Friedrichsen, J. Wendland and G. Woronenkowa. Baden-Baden, Germany:
Nomos, pp. 189–199.
Diehl, N. and Diehl, C. (2018). ‘Autonomes Fahren im Diskurs — Semantische
Netzwerke und diskursive Regelmäßigkeiten’. In: Kommunikation und
Technik. Ausgewählte neue Ansätze im Rahmen einer interdisziplinären
Betrachtung. Ed. by F. U.Siems and M.-C. Papen. Wiesbaden, Germany:
Springer VS, pp. 325–338. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 20
Dunwoody, S. and Peters, H. P. (1992). ‘Mass media coverage of technological and
environmental risks: a survey of research in the United States and Germany’.
Public Understanding of Science 1 (2), pp. 199–230.
Elmer, C., Badenschier, F. and Wormer, H. (2008). ‘Science for everybody? How the
coverage of research issues in German newspapers has increased dramatically’.
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 85 (4), pp. 878–893.
Engesser, S. and Brüggemann, M. (2016). ‘Falsche Ausgewogenheit? Eine
journalistische Berufsnorm auf dem Prüfstand’. In: Verantwortung —
Gerechtigkeit — Öffentlichkeit: normative Perspektiven auf Kommunikation.
Ed. by P. Werner, L. Rinsdorf, T. Pleil and K.-D. Altmeppen. Konstanz,
Germany: UVK, pp. 51–63.
Fleischer, T. and Schippl, J. (2018). ‘Automated driving — blessing or curse for a
sustainable mobility?’ TATuP — Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie
Und Praxis 27 (2), pp. 11–15.
Gasser, T. M., Arzt, C., Ayoubi, M., Bartels, A., Bürkle, L., Eier, J., Flemisch, F.,
Häcker, D., Hesse, T., Huber, W., Lotz, C., Maurer, M., Ruth-Schumacher, S.,
Schwarz, J. and Vogt, W. (2012). Rechtsfolgen zunehmender
Fahrzeugautomatisierung. Berichte der Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen.
Fahrzeugtechnik Heft F83. Bergisch Gladbach: Wirtschaftsverlag NW.
Grunwald, A. (2015). ‘Gesellschaftliche Risikokonstellation für autonomes Fahren
— Analyse, Einordnung und Bewertung’. In: Autonomes Fahren. Technische,
rechtliche und gesellschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes,
B. Lenz and H. Winner. Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Vieweg,
pp. 661–685.
Haboucha, C. J., Ishaq, R. and Shiftan, Y. (2017). ‘User preferences regarding
autonomous vehicles’. Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies 78,
pp. 37–49.
Hagen, L. M. (1995). Informationsqualität von Nachrichten. Meßmethoden und
ihre Anwendung auf die Dienste von Nachrichtenagenturen. Opladen,
Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag.
Haslinger, J., Hauser, C., Hocke, P. and Fiedeler, U. (2012). Ein Teilerfolg der
Nanowissenschaften? Eine Inhaltsanalyse zur Nanoberichterstattung in
repräsentativen Medien Österreichs, Deutschlands und der Schweiz.
ITA manu:script 12-04.
Hijmans, E., Pleijter, A. and Wester, F. (2003). ‘Covering scientific research in Dutch
newspapers’. Science Communication 25 (2), pp. 153–176.
Kalra, N. and Paddock, S. M. (2016). ‘Driving to safety: how many miles of driving
would it take to demonstrate autonomous vehicle reliability?’ Transportation
Research Part A: Policy and Practice 94, pp. 182–193.
Kaur, K. and Rampersad, G. (2018). ‘Trust in driverless cars: investigating key
factors influencing the adoption of driverless cars’. Journal of Engineering and
Technology Management 48, pp. 87–96. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 21
Kepplinger, H. M. (1989). Künstliche Horizonte. Folgen, Darstellung und
Akzeptanz von Technik in der Bundesrepublik. Frankfurt am Main, Germany:
(1990). ‘Wertewandel: Technikdarstellung in den Medien und
Technikverständnis der Bevölkerung’. Chemie Ingenieur Technik 62 (6),
pp. 465–473.
Kepplinger, H. M. and Lemke, R. (2014). ‘Framing Fukushima: zur Darstellung der
Katastrophe in Deutschland im Vergleich zu Großbritannien, Frankreich und
der Schweiz’. In: Fukushima und die Folgen — Medienberichterstattung,
Öffentliche Meinung, Politische Konsequenzen. Ed. by J. Wolling and D. Arlt.
Ilmenau, Germany: Univ.-Verl. Ilmenau, pp. 125–152.
König, M. and Neumayr, L. (2017). ‘Users’ resistance towards radical innovations:
the case of the self-driving car’. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology
and Behaviour 44, pp. 42–52.
Krüger, U. (2013). Meinungsmacht. Der Einfluss von Eliten auf Leitmedien und
Alpha-Journalisten — eine kritische Netzwerkanalyse. Köln, Germany: Herbert
von Halem.
Künzler, M. (2017). ‘Leitmedien in der Onlinewelt’. In: Abbruch — Umbruch —
Aufbruch. Globaler Medienwandel und lokale Medienkrisen. Ed. by
W. A. Meier. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos, pp. 155–176.
Lee, C.-J. and Scheufele, D. A. (2006). ‘The influence of knowledge and deference
toward scientific authority: a media effects model for public attitudes toward
nanotechnology’. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 83 (4),
pp. 819–834.
Lenz, B. and Fraedrich, E. (2015a). ‘Gesellschaftliche und individuelle Akzeptanz
des autonomen Fahrens’. In: Autonomes Fahren. Technische, rechtliche und
gesellschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes, B. Lenz and
H. Winner. Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Vieweg, pp. 639–660.
(2015b). ‘Vom (Mit-)Fahren: autonomes Fahren und Autonutzung’. In:
Autonomes Fahren. Technische, rechtliche und gesellschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by
M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes, B. Lenz and H. Winner. Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany:
Springer Vieweg, pp. 687–708.
Marks, L. A., Kalaitzandonakes, N., Wilkins, L. and Zakharova, L. (2007). ‘Mass
media framing of biotechnology news’. Public Understanding of Science 16 (2),
pp. 183–203.
Maurer, M. (2011). ‘Wie Journalisten mit Ungewissheit umgehen. Eine
Untersuchung am Beispiel der Berichterstattung über die Folgen des
Klimawandels’. M&K Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft 59 (1), pp. 60–74.
Metag, J. and Marcinkowski, F. (2014). ‘Technophobia towards emerging
technologies? A comparative analysis of the media coverage of nanotechnology
in Austria, Switzerland and Germany’. Journalism 15 (4), pp. 463–481. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 22
Nienierza, A. (2014). ‘Die größte anzunehmende Umbewertung? Eine
Frame-Analyse der deutschen Presseberichterstattung über Kernenergie nach
den Reaktorunfällen von Tschernobyl (1986) und Fukushima (2011)’. In:
Fukushima und die Folgen — Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung,
Politische Konsequenzen. Ed. by J. Wolling and D. Arlt. Ilmenau, Germany:
Univ.-Verl. Ilmenau, pp. 31–54.
Nisbet, M. C., Brossard, D. and Kroepsch, A. (2003). ‘Framing science: the stem cell
controversy in an age of press/politics’. The International Journal of Press/Politics
8 (2), pp. 36–70.
Peters, H. P. (1995). Massenmedien und Technikakzeptanz. Inhalte und Wirkungen
der Medienberichterstattung über Technik, Umwelt und Risiken. Arbeiten zur
Risiko-Kommunikation. Heft 50.
Racine, E., Waldman, S., Rosenberg, J. and Illes, J. (2010). ‘Contemporary
neuroscience in the media’. Social Science & Medicine 71 (4), pp. 725–733.
Schäfer, M. S. (2012). ‘Taking stock: a meta-analysis of studies on the media’s
coverage of science’. Public Understanding Science 21 (6), pp. 650–663.
Scheufele, B. (2014). ‘Kommunikation und Medien: Grundbegriffe, Theorien und
Konzepte’. In: Handbuch Unternehmenskommunikation. Strategie —
Management — Wertschöpfung. Ed. by A. Zerfaß and M. Piwinger. 2nd ed.
Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer Gabler, pp. 105–143.
Scheufele, D. A. and Lewenstein, B. V. (2005). ‘The public and nanotechnology: how
citizens make sense of emerging technologies’. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 7
(6), pp. 659–667.
Schlag, B. (2016). ‘Automatisiertes Fahren im Straßenverkehr — Offene Fragen aus
Sicht der Psychologie’. Zeitschrift für Verkehrssicherheit 62 (2), pp. 94–98.
Schoettle, B. and Sivak, M. (2014). Public opinion about self-driving vehicles in
China, India, Japan, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. Technical Report
UMTRI-2014-30. URL:
Simoni, M. D., Kockelman, K. M., Gurumurthy, K. M. and Bischoff, J. (2019).
‘Congestion pricing in a world of self-driving vehicles: an analysis of different
strategies in alternative future scenarios’. Transportation Research Part C:
Emerging Technologies 98, pp. 167–185.
Society of Automotive Engineers — SAE International (16th January 2014).
Taxonomy and definitions for terms related to on-road motor vehicle automated driving
systems. Surface vehicle information report J3016.
Summ, A. and Volpers, A.-M. (2016). ‘What’s science? Where’s science? Science
journalism in German print media’. Public Understanding of Science 25 (7),
pp. 775–790.
Taddicken, M., Reif, A., Brandhorst, J., Schuster, J., Diestelhorst, M. and Hauk, L.
(2020). ‘Wirtschaftlicher Nutzen statt gesellschaftlicher Debatte? Eine
quantitative Framing-Analyse der Medienberichterstattung zum autonomen
Fahren’. M&K Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft 68 (4), pp. 406–427. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 23
van Atteveldt, N. M., van Aalderen-Smeets, S. I., Jacobi, C. and Ruigrok, N. (2014).
‘Media reporting of neuroscience depends on timing, topic and newspaper
type’. PLoS ONE 9 (8), e104780.
van Witsen, A. and Takahashi, B. (2018). ‘Knowledge-based journalism in science
and environmental reporting: opportunities and obstacles’. Environmental
Communication 12 (6), pp. 717–730.
Vellinga, N. E. (2017). ‘From the testing to the deployment of self-driving cars: legal
challenges to policymakers on the road ahead’. Computer Law & Security Review
33 (6), pp. 847–863.
Verband der Automobilindustrie (2015). Automatisierung. Von
Fahrerassistenzsystemen zum automatisierten Fahren. URL:https://www.vda
Wachenfeld, W., Winner, H., Gerdes, C., Lenz, B., Maurer, M., Beiker, S. A.,
Fraedrich, E. and Winkle, T. (2015). ‘Use-Cases des autonomen Fahrens’. In:
Autonomes Fahren. Technische, rechtliche und gesellschaftliche Aspekte. Ed. by
M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes, B. Lenz and H. Winner. Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany:
Springer Vieweg, pp. 9–37.
Weischenberg, S., Malik, M. and Scholl, A. (2006). ‘Journalismus in Deutschland
2005’. Zentrale Befunde der aktuellen Repräsentativbefragung deutscher
Journalisten. Media Perspektiven 7, pp. 346–361.
Wilke, J. (2009). ‘Historische und intermediale Entwicklungen von Leitmedien.
Journalistische Leitmedien in Konkurrenz zu anderen’. In: Leitmedien.
Konzepte — Relevanz — Geschichte, Band 1. Ed. by D. Müller, A. Ligensa and
P. Gendolla. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript, pp. 29–52.
Wolfers, B. (2017). ‘Selbstfahrende Autos: ist das erlaubt?’ RAW — Recht, Automobil,
Wirtschaft 5 (1), pp. 2–13.
Yeo, S. K., Xenos, M. A., Brossard, D. and Scheufele, D. A. (2015). ‘Selecting our
own science: how communication contexts and individual traits shape
information seeking’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science 658 (1), pp. 172–191.
Zeh, R. and Odén, T. (2014). ‘Energieträger in der Berichterstattung: die
Nachwehen von Fukushima in Schweden und Deutschland’. In: Fukushima
und die Folgen — Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung, Politische
Konsequenzen. Ed. by J. Wolling and D. Arlt. Ilmenau, Germany:
Univ.-Verl. Ilmenau, pp. 211–232.
Zimmer, R., Hertel, R. and Böl, G.-F. (2008). Risikowahrnehmung beim Thema
Nanotechnologie — Analyse der Medienberichterstattung. Berlin, Germany:
BfR Wissenschaft. URL:
ng_beim_thema_nanotechnologie.pdf. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 24
Authors Lena Jelinski is a master’s degree recipient at the TU Dresden Institute for
Communication Science. Her field of interest includes communication about
science and technology, with a special focus on sustainable mobility. She is
currently working at the Mobility Institute Berlin, a firm specialized in research and
consulting in the urban mobility domain. E-mail:
Katrin Etzrodt is a research assistant and Ph.D. student at Technische Universität
Dresden. Since 2017 she is a scholarship holder of the Program for the Promotion of
Early-Career Female Scientists of TU Dresden. Her fields of interest include the
Internet of Things and artificial agents.
Sven Engesser is a Professor of Science and Technology Communication at
Technische Universität Dresden. He received his Ph.D. from LMU Munich. His
fields of interest include the Internet of Things, trust in technology, and populism
in the media.
Jelinski, L., Etzrodt, K. and Engesser, S. (2021). ‘Undifferentiated optimism andHow to cite
scandalized accidents: the media coverage of autonomous driving in Germany’.
JCOM 20 (04), A02.
The Author(s). This article is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution — NonCommercial — NoDerivativeWorks 4.0 License.
ISSN 1824-2049. Published by SISSA Medialab. JCOM 20(04)(2021)A02 25
... Hence, the German stakeholders' documents suggest that the public's information deficit must be mended in order to enable the successful proliferation of automated vehicles (a sentiment that is echoed in some scholarly literature, e.g. Jelinski et al., 2021). The information deficit may be mended by educational means and/or by allowing the public to engage with the technology, for example, in living labs. ...
... This is not uncommon and may be said to reflect the expert-based discourse surrounding automated vehicles (Hopkins & Schwanen, 2018a: 13;Mladenović, 2019: 111;Mladenović et al., 2020: 250-251): as experts, and stakeholders more generally, consider the societal benefits of technology to be self-evident, the public and its attitudes necessarily represent a barrier to the proliferation of that technology (Milakis & Müller, 2021: 2;McAslan et al., 2021: 8;Schot & Rip, 1997: 264;Stilgoe & Cohen, 2021: 850-851). Negative attitudes towards innovations are often imagined to be irrational (Bauer, 2017; for examples, see Graf & Sonnberger, 2020: 68;Stilgoe, 2021: 638), which is reflected in the emphasis on education: by providing the public with 'unbiased information', it will be easier to realise the benefits offered by the technology (Acheampong et al., 2021;Jelinski et al., 2021). ...
Full-text available
In 2017, the Norwegian Government flagged its interest in automated vehicles, and established legislation that allowed for automated vehicles to be tested on public roads. Proponents of automated vehicles claim that such vehicles represent an opportunity for making road transport greener, safer, and more efficient, as well as a considerable opportunity for industrial development and economic growth. This thesis takes innovation processes relating to automated vehicles as a starting point for understanding the roles ascribed to new technologies in and beyond the transport sector. The thesis is composed of three articles and an overarching essay. The first article concerns the translation of a set of generalised expectations into a more specific vision of how the development of automated vehicles might benefit the Norwegian state, and, by extension, what future automated vehicles might render possible. The second article concerns public expectations regarding automated vehicles in Norway as expressed through a public hearing, how these expectations are reflected in innovation practices, and how the practices shape further expectations. The third article focuses on the temporal aspect of innovation, and contrasts technology innovation with policy innovation in order to draw out the implications of the two approaches to shaping the future of transport. The overarching essay analyses, synthesises, and draws conclusions from across the three articles to enable a discussion of the transformative role often ascribed to technology. Whereas the importance of technology should not be discounted offhand, transport innovation in Norway is configured in a way that ultimately promotes the continuation and preservation of established transport patterns in particular, as well as society more generally. The expectation that future technology will help ameliorate or even solve the problems associated with today’s transport system allows present-day action to be deferred indefinitely. However, expectations are always associated with considerable uncertainty. Hence, it is crucial not only to ask what benefits new technologies might bring, and to assess any such claims critically, but also to plan for a future in which expectations for new technologies might not be realised.
... Fatal accidents with autonomous vehicles can be expected to attract strong media attention during the first years of introducing automated driving technologies into daily traffic (e.g., Shariff et al., 2017;Jelinski et al., 2021). Two of the best-known examples of accidents involving vehicles with automated driving technologies are the 2016 Tesla accident and the 2018 Uber accident. ...
Full-text available
A more critical evaluation of the actions of autonomous vehicles in comparison to those of human drivers in accident scenarios may complicate the introduction of autonomous vehicles into daily traffic. In two experiments, we tested whether the evaluation of actions in road-accident scenarios differs as a function of whether the actions were performed by human drivers or autonomous vehicles. Participants judged how morally adequate they found the actions of a non-anthropomorphized autonomous vehicle (Experiments 1 and 2), an anthropomorphized autonomous vehicle (Experiment 2), and a human driver (Experiments 1 and 2) in otherwise identical road-accident scenarios. The more lives were spared, the better the action was evaluated irrespective of the agent. However, regardless of the specific action that was chosen, the actions of the human driver were always considered more morally justifiable than the corresponding actions of the autonomous vehicle. The differences in the moral evaluations between the human driver and the autonomous vehicle were reduced, albeit not completely eliminated, when the autonomous vehicle was anthropomorphized (Experiment 2). Anthropomorphizing autonomous vehicles may thus influence the processes underlying moral judgments about the actions of autonomous vehicles such that the actions of anthropomorphized autonomous vehicles appear closer in moral justifiability to the actions of humans. The observed differences in the moral evaluation of the actions of human drivers and autonomous vehicles could cause a more critical public response to accidents involving autonomous vehicles compared to those involving human drivers which might be reduced by anthropomorphizing the autonomous vehicles.
... Recent technological progress in autonomous driving has given rise to a public debate on the required precautions for facilitating technological progress and on the ethical underpinnings for allowing autonomous driving. Public perception and media coverage have remained ambiguous about the consequences of autonomous driving, providing a mixed picture oscillating between scandalization and science fiction (Jelinski et al., 2021). Consequently, such entities as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) (2020), sub-national legislation in California, Nevada and Arizona and ethics codes, as in the case of Germany, have sought to address societal concerns and formulate collective standards for autonomous driving to ensure trust in technologies integrated in automated or autonomous vehicles. ...
Full-text available
The German Act on Autonomous Driving constitutes the first national framework on level four autonomous vehicles and has received attention from policy makers, AI ethics scholars and legal experts in autonomous driving. Owing to Germany’s role as a global hub for car manufacturing, the following paper sheds light on the act’s position within the ethical discourse and how it reconfigures the balance between legislation and ethical frameworks. Specifically, in this paper, we highlight areas that need to be more worked out in the future either through ethical conventions, corporate measures or legal measures and examine how the law can be incorporated into the existing discourse on the regulation of technologies. Based on this examination, we derive implications for future discourse and elaborate on companies’ responsibilities in developing autonomous driving technologies in an ethical sense.
Full-text available
Autonomes Fahren ist eine Technologie von hoher gesellschaftlicher Relevanz, die aufgrund verschiedener Risiken und Vorteile aus diversen Blickwinkeln betrachtet werden kann und muss. Dazu zählen auch ethische Debatten über die künftige Anwendung und Ausgestaltung der Technologie, nicht zuletzt begründet durch den ersten tödlichen Unfall eines selbstfahrenden Autos 2016. Der Medienberichterstattung kommt dabei eine besondere Relevanz zu, Debatten über komplexe Themen aufzugreifen und anzustoßen. Aus diesem Grund untersucht dieser Beitrag die deutsche Berichterstattung anhand von 540 Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenartikeln zum Thema im Zeitverlauf von 2014 bis 2017. Nach dem Framing-Ansatz von Entman (1993) in Verbindung mit Matthes und Kohring (2008) werden vier Frames identifiziert: (1) technologischer Fortschritt, (2) Ambivalenz-Frame, (3) Regulierung der Technologie und (4) wirtschaftlicher Nutzen. Der Fokus der Berichterstattung liegt insgesamt auf technischen und wirtschaftlichen Vorteilen, ethische sowie Sicherheitsbedenken werden kaum diskutiert. Auch nach dem ersten tödlichen Unfall finden sich nur leichte Veränderungstendenzen.
Full-text available
Dieses TATuP-Thema präsentiert erste Perspektiven, Indiziensammlungen und Diskussionsbeiträge zum Themenfeld des automatisierten Fahrens, das seit einigen Jahren ein wichtiger Gegenstand der Mobilitätsforschung geworden ist. Auch wenn in der Öffentlichkeit weiterhin verbreitet Skepsis hinsichtlich der technischen und organisatorischen Reife herrscht, dominiert in der Fachwelt die Erwartung, dass hochoder vollautomatisierte Fahrzeuge in absehbarer Zeit zugelassen werden. Aber wird sich die Automatisierung des Straßenverkehrs als Fluch oder als Segen für Konzepte nachhaltiger Mobilität erweisen? Die Technikfolgenabschätzung (TA) sieht sich dabei mit einem für die Disziplin nicht untypischen Dilemma konfrontiert: Einerseits lässt sich angesichts der vielen Unwägbarkeiten noch wenig Belastbares über mögliche Technikfolgen sagen. Andererseits hat die Technologie erhebliches Transformationspotenzial, sodass ein „rechtzeitiges“ Gestalten ihrer Entwicklung gesellschaftlich wünschenswert scheint.
Full-text available
Driverless cars are seen as one of the key disruptors in the next technology revolution. However, the main barrier to adoption is the lack of public trust. The purpose of this study is to investigate the key factors influencing the adoption of driverless cars. Drawing on quantitative evidence, the study found that the ability of the driverless car to meet performance expectations and its reliability were important adoption determinants. Significant concerns included privacy (autonomy, location tracking and surveillance) and security (from hackers). The paper provides implications for firms developing the next generation of car features and early implementation sites.
Recent calls for knowledge-based journalism advocate a new level of formal knowledge in news reporting to meet the professional challenges caused by rapid change in the news industry. Scientifically knowledgeable journalism has the potential to redefine the existing science–media relationship. However, the audience for such journalism is unclear, nor is it known how this new journalism would function within rapidly changing newsroom practices. Implementing knowledge-based journalism requires theory-based propositions to show the actual benefits of improved scientific understanding for news consumers and an understanding, from research into professional cultures, of why new practices in journalism are adopted or abandoned. This paper develops that theoretical basis by examining knowledge-based journalism’s potential and some of the intellectual and institutional barriers to it.
Das Thema „autonomes Fahren“ polarisiert die Automobilbranche, doch bis zu einer gesamtgesellschaftlichen Akzeptanz autonomer Fahrsysteme in PKW steht zumindest in Deutschland noch ein weiter Weg bevor. Akzeptanz beruht auf Einstellungen und Meinungen, die wiederum primär in massenmedialen Diskursen ausgehandelt werden. Daher wird in diesem Artikel untersucht, welche argumentativen Regelmäßigkeiten den Diskurs über das autonome Fahren formieren. Auf diese Weise werden die verschiedenen Sprecherpositionen unterschiedlicher Diskursakteure eruiert und insgesamt fünf zentrale Argumentationsmuster sowie ein zeitgenössisches diskursives Narrativ herausgearbeitet.
Objectives As automation becomes more prevalent in the transportation industry, driverless vehicles are appearing more frequently in the news. However safe or efficient these vehicles are touted to be, media portrayal has the potential to dramatically affect consumer perceptions. Consumer perceptions will ultimately determine the success or failure of driverless vehicles, and potentially drive policy changes as driverless vehicles become more common. Methods The purpose of this research was to investigate the effects of different types of information (positive or negative) on consumer perceptions of driverless vehicles, and how individuals of different genders and nationalities may feel influenced differently by the same information. The current research used a two-study approach. Results In the first study, results showed that individuals are more willing to ride in driverless vehicles after hearing positive information about them, and less willing to ride after hearing negative information about the vehicles. In study two, our results were similar to those found in study one regarding information type and willingness to ride. Additionally, there was a main effect of nationality because Indians were significantly more willing to ride in driverless vehicles compared to Americans. This main effect of nationality was qualified by significant interactions between nationality and gender as well as nationality and information type. Conclusions Overall, Indian females were the group with highest willingness to ride scores. The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings, theoretical contributions, practical applications, development of policy, and potential avenues of future study.
Verbesserte Informations‐ und Kommunikationstechnologien, das Bedürfnis nach nachhaltigeren Formen des Konsums und wirtschaftliche Vorteile durch gemeinsam genutzte Ressourcen sind nur einige Gründe dafür, dass der Sharing Economy ein großes Wachstumspotenzial zugeschrieben wird [9]. Ein Wachstum wird vor allem in Ballungsräumen erwartet, da insbesondere dort die zur Durchsetzung von Sharing‐Konzepten erforderliche kritische Masse an Mitgliedern erreicht werden kann.
Self-driving cars and self-driving technology are tested on public roads in several countries on a large scale. With this development not only technical, but also legal questions arise. This article will give a brief overview of the legal developments in multiple jurisdictions – California (USA), United Kingdom, and the Netherlands – and will highlight several legal questions regarding the testing and deployment of self-driving cars. Policymakers are confronted with the question how the testing of self-driving cars can be regulated. The discussed jurisdictions all choose a different approach. Different legal instruments – binding regulation, non-binding regulation, granting exemptions – are used to regulate the testing of self-driving cars. Are these instruments suitable for the objectives the jurisdictions want to achieve? As technology matures, self-driving cars will at some point become available to the general public. Regarding this post-testing phase, two pressing problems arise: how to deal with the absence of a human driver and how does this affect liability and insurance? The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968 and the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic 1949, as well as national traffic laws, are based on the notion that only a human can drive a car. To what extent a different interpretation of the term ‘driver’ in traffic laws and international Conventions can accommodate the deployment of self-driving cars without a human driver present will be discussed in this article. When the self-driving car becomes reality, current liability regimes can fall short. Liability for car accidents might shift from the driver or owner to the manufacturer of the car. This could have a negative effect on the development of self-driving cars. In this context, it will also be discussed to what extent insurance can affect this development.
This study gains insight into individual motivations for choosing to own and use autonomous vehicles and develops a model for autonomous vehicle long-term choice decisions. A stated preference questionnaire is distributed to 721 individuals living across Israel and North America. Based on the characteristics of their current commutes, individuals are presented with various scenarios and asked to choose the car they would use for their commute. A vehicle choice model which includes three options is estimated: (1) Continue to commute using a regular car that you have in your possession. (2) Buy and shift to commuting using a privately-owned autonomous vehicle (PAV). (3) Shift to using a shared-autonomous vehicle (SAV), from a fleet of on-demand cars for your commute. A factor analysis determined five relevant latent variables describing the individuals’ attitudes: technology interest, environmental concern, enjoy driving, public transit attitude, and pro-AV sentiments. The effects that the characteristics of the individual and the autonomous vehicle have on use and acceptance are quantified through random utility models including logit kernel model taking into account panel effects.Currently, large overall hesitations towards autonomous vehicle adoption exist, with 44% of choice decisions remaining regular vehicles. Early AV adopters will likely be young, students, more educated, and spend more time in vehicles. Even if the SAV service were to be completely free, only 75% of individuals would currently be willing to use SAVs. The study also found various differences regarding the preferences of individuals in Israel and North America, namely that Israelis are overall more likely to shift to autonomous vehicles. Methods to encourage SAV use include increasing the costs for regular cars as well as educating the public about the benefits of shared autonomous vehicles.