As rapidly advancing technology and vehicle engineering merge to bring us closer and closer to that fateful day of driverless vehicles, we can think of lots of benefits we’ll all reap as a result. Robotic or self-autonomous vehicles (SAVs) are anticipated to bring us better crash avoidance technology, better fuel economy, enable disabled individuals’ transportation opportunities, assisting elderly people with transport needs, and so on and so forth.
Many of the major car manufacturers are getting in on the SAV trend, too. The biggest question about the future of fully robotically controlled cars isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when” they’ll hit the market and the blacktop. And, even the fear associated with SAVs is starting to fade.
“It’s great to see the easing of fears,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations during a CNN Tech talk. “The reality is consumers need to not be afraid of these technologies because they hold the promise to save lives.”1
How Safe are SAVs and How Will They Benefit Us Every Day?
Self-driving trucks and cars will join us on the roads soon enough. But, as we wait for the final fully-automated vehicles, we can see the progression by means of the six levels of driver assistance technology advancements as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE):
|Level 0||No Automation||Driver is in full control of all driving tasks.|
|Level 1||Driver Assistance||Driver is in control of the vehicle, but some driver-assisted features may be included in the vehicle’s design.|
|Level 2||Partial Automation||Driver must remain observant and drive when necessary, but vehicle has several autonomous features, like acceleration, steering, and other crash-avoidance features.|
|Level 3||Conditional Automation||Driver is still needed, but not necessarily needs to monitor the environment. Driver must be able to take control of steering and regular driving operations at a moment’s notice.|
|Level 4||High Automation||The vehicle can control most operation functions under normal conditions. However, the driver is still able to take control, if an emergency requires it.|
|Level 5||Full Automation||The vehicle has full control of operations under any condition. The driver may or may not have the ability to take control of the vehicle, depending on if the vehicle is outfitted with a steering wheel and accelerator, as some may not.|
Now, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of self-driving vehicles.
- Safety – Well, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of all serious motor vehicle accidents are due to human error. SAVs have the capability to remove that human error factor from the collision equation. This would in turn protect drivers, passengers, other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
- Economic and Social Benefits – According to 2010 NHTSA data, motor vehicle accidents cost $242 billion; $57.6 billion in lost wages from those injured; and $594 billion in loss of life, loss of quality of life, and other injuries. SAV proponents say self-driving vehicles would do away with most of those costs.
- Efficiency and Convenience – Proponents say SAVs should also provide smoother traffic flow and continuity on our roadways to reduce accidents and traffic congestion. Every year, Americans spend 6.9 billion hours on the roads stuck in traffic delays that cut into their time away from work and family. One study even concludes that SAVs could save roughly 50 minutes every day that would otherwise be spent driving.
- Mobility – Proponents also look at U.S. demographics and how SAVs would help those with disabilities as well as those over the age of 65, who require some transportation assistance.
While fully auto SAVs won’t be hitting our dealerships tomorrow, their technology is already present in some modern vehicle models in the form of things like crash-avoidance and auto-braking features. There’s a lot that needs to take place at the Federal and State levels to pave the way legally for us to share the roads with fully autonomous vehicles. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation is in constant consultation with vehicle manufactures in terms of setting industry standards and guidelines for what promises to be an exciting future of transportation.
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1“Americans are Slowly Warming Up to Self-Driving Cars” published in CNN Tech, Jan. 2018.