Before proponents of "no-fault" automobile insurance can convince the public of the virtues of the plan, they will need to conduct a massive program of consumer education.

While, three-fourths of the nation's adults indicate a familiarity with no-fault, only one in three can correctly describe how the program works. And among this small group opinion regarding the plan is closely divided.

Basically, no-fault means exactly what it says - anyone involved in an accident can collect benefits without having to prove the other person is "at fault." This means a driver can collect if the other is uninsured, if he or she is involved in a single-car accident, or even if he or she is the cause of the mishap.

Public awareness of the no-fault system has virtually doubled during the last six years. Currently 77 per cent of adults nationwide say they have heard or read about no-fault, nearly double the 41 per cent who so indicated in 1971.

While less than half this group, 31 per cent of all adults, can provide a correc description of no-fault, the current figure represents a significant increase since 1971 when only 19 per cent could do do. Among the 31 per cent who correctly describ e how no-fault works, opinion is closely divided, with 15 per cent approving, 12 per cent disapproving, and 4 per cent undecided.

In 1971, 15 per cent approved of nofault an 4 per cent disapproved among those able to describe correctly how the plan works.

This question was asked first in the survey:

"Have you heard or read about the 'no-fault' plan dealing with auto insurance?[CHART OMITTED]

These who said they had heard or read about the plan were then asked: "What is your understanding of this plan?"[CHART OMITTED]

The 31 per cent in the survey who had a correct understanding of no-fault were then asked: "Do you approve or disapprove of the no-fault plan?"

Following are the resukts based on the total sample, and the trend: [CHART OMITTED]

The proposed federal law, sponsored by Sen. Warren Magnuson (D-Wash.), would require each state to have a no-fault law, while limiting medical and rehabilitation expenses to $100,000. It would also cover lost wages and salaries up to $12,000. Should the Magnuson bill become law, states would have up to three years to enact laws that equal or surpass the federal guidelines: If they did not act within three years, the federal limits would apply until states passed their own versions.

Currently, 16 states have adopted no-fault programs, most of which pay only personal injury benefits, not property loss.

The proposed federal law has the backing of President Carter, the first chief executive to support a nationwide no-fault system.