Manufacturers have been working toward building autonomous vehicles for
decades, incorporating features such as anti-lock brakes and electronic
stability control systems that have been shown to prevent
car accidents, save lives and reduce injuries.
The slow, yet steady integration of automated systems into vehicle designs
has been deliberate. It has given consumers a chance to adapt to the idea
of a more independent vehicle and allowed regulators to make sure the
technology is safe.
However, just before the holidays, Google appeared to step up the pace
when the company announced that it had finally developed a fully functional
As we move closer to seeing autonomous cars becoming a reality, the question
many are asking is whether consumers, lawmakers and transportation officials
are ready for it.
Self-Driving Cars Could Be Positive Safety Development
The majority of crashes today are fully or partly caused by driver error
- errors that claimed close to 33,000 lives in 2013 and injured more than
2 million people, according to the latest data from the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
By reducing the opportunities for driver errors, self-driving cars could
be a positive safety development.
For instance, cars equipped with sensors that can prevent front-end collisions,
detect other cars and monitor lane departures are already on the market
and showing promise in saving lives. Other features such as parking assist
systems, pedestrian recognition and adaptive cruise control are becoming
increasingly available not only in luxury vehicles but in less expensive
models as well.
Survey Shows Drivers Are Still Leery of Autonomous Vehicles
Google says its self-driving car is ready today with no steering wheel
and brake pedal (although testers will have temporary manual controls
in case of an emergency). Google is seeking partners to help bring the
vehicle to market within five years.
However, according to a
University of Michigan survey earlier this year, the public may not be ready yet to give up control
to a vehicle computer.
According to the survey of 1,533 people in the U.S., U.K. and Australia,
most had heard of autonomous vehicles and even had a positive opinion
of such technology.
Still, the majority were very concerned about riding in a self-driving
car. They were also unsure whether fully autonomous cars could perform
as well or better than human drivers. The respondents were worried about
riding in a vehicle with no driver controls and about how the vehicles
would interact with other cars.
The NHTSA expressed support for self-driving cars in a policy statement
in 2013. The agency stated that it is conducting research to determine
the feasibility of a fully automated car. Yet, to date, only four states
have enacted legislation allowing driverless cars on public roads.
What Happens If a Driverless Vehicle Crashes?
There are serious questions about whether the law is ready to handle accidents
involving autonomous vehicles. If a self-driving car was in an accident
that killed or injured someone, how would fault be determined?
On the plus side, these super high-tech machines should have the capacity
to record crash data. This would help to determine blame.
products liability claim could assert that the driverless car's manufacturer or other third
parties were responsible for an accident. Indeed, there may be a shift
toward vehicle accident lawsuits being directed towards manufacturers
rather than individual drivers.
For now, we will have to wait and see. Even though Google appears ready
to launch, most car experts predict that the introduction of a fully autonomous
car probably will not occur until at least 2025.