Self-Driving Cars - Autonomous Vehicles

You have probably heard the buzz about self-driving cars. Did you know that they are predicted to save 300,000 lives per decade in the United States? (The Atlantic) That’s right; self-driving cars have promised to eliminate a majority of all fatal car accidents. This could be a very important step toward safer roads, similar to adding airbags or requiring seatbelts.

How Safe are Autonomous Vehicles?

In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in crashes in the U.S. which was a historical low. Self-driving cars could reduce that number by 90 percent. Globally, 1.2 million traffic fatalities occur per year, which means the vehicles would save 10 million lives per decade around the world. (The Atlantic)

Self-driving cars are supposed to be available to the public in 2020. According to experts, this will be the most dangerous time as people adjust and self-driving cars share the road with conventional vehicles.

Will I Still Need to Pay Attention?

One misconception that many people have is that they can sit back and eat a bowl of cereal while their self-driving car does its thing. In reality, a driver should still be alert and ready to take the wheel in case the car becomes confused. The cars are built with a sensor that will alert drivers if the car is having trouble understanding something, such as road work. Another problem the cars have is that they are a little too cautious, and tend to brake more than necessary, so the driver has to be aware of that. Almost all of the crashes sustained by Google’s self-driving cars (none of which were labeled as the fault of the car) involved the vehicle being rear ended.

Most of the prototypes for self-driving cars, which virtually all of the large auto manufacturers are working on, plus Google and Apple, have large sensors bolted to the exterior of the car. BMW’s self-driving car, in contrast, has managed to hide the sensors in a much more inconspicuous way. BMW is also only focused on driving in a straight line at appropriate speeds, however, whereas cars like Google are trying to self-drive in traffic. The sensors then all communicate with a main computer inside the car so the car can “see” the road around it.

Soon, self-driving cars will go from a futuristic idea to an everyday reality. Will you be prepared for the change?

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