Will Autonomous Vehicles Make Our Roads Safer?

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Self-driving cars are potentially on their way to becoming commonplace transportation in modern American households. Maybe you’ve heard about it, either through the news, a podcast, or an article on the internet. No matter what your familiarity with the concept is, one thing’s for certain: we could be sharing the roadways with self-driving vehicles in the next few years.

Of course, when you think about the push of artificial intelligence (AI) into other parts of our day-to-day lives, it might not seem so crazy. With space exploration centers beginning to use AI droids in space, a self-driving vehicle seems pretty tame! But for now, they have yet to hit the roadways in a non-testing capacity.

When they do, however, they are bound to change the roadways forever. Autonomous cars, as they are projected, will change the way we think about driving as a whole. Yet, there are still some barriers to entry that must be addressed and fixed before they’re available to be driven by the American public.

The Push and Struggle for Autonomous Vehicles

Right now there are several different companies that are racing to get their autonomous vehicles onto the market first. Amazon, Google, and established world leaders in the auto industry are all putting their hats in the ring, trying to create the best and first widely-available car that can drive itself. But one thing has barred them public entry, and that is human safety.

While autonomous vehicles are projected to be safer than their non-autonomous predecessors, they still have some serious bugs to work out. Take a tragic case in Florida for instance, which was the first state to allow self-driving cars for public use and consumption (it is still not legal across all of the United States). In 2016, the camera on a self driving Tesla failed to see a semi truck due to the sunlight, and proceeded to drive under the larger vehicle, stripping the roof and killing the driver.

Because of instances like that (in addition to those similar from testing procedures), autonomous vehicles remain primarily off the market. Furthermore, they’re incredibly expensive. Even if they were legal in every state, it’s possible that automobile companies would just be losing money by releasing them on the market too early. So before the vehicles are available, they need to be roadworthy and trustworthy.

How Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Roadways

Ironically, considering the safety concerns that autonomous vehicles bring, their biggest appeal to practical driving is just that: safety. Machine error is slated to be significantly less than human error, saving lives and reducing crash rates. On top of that, impaired driving could be less of a risk to public safety, since humans won’t be driving in the same way.

Of course, safer roads could also reduce traffic and driver stress as well. This means that tragic cases of road rage and distracted drivers could decrease remarkably. However, it will also require that humans give up some of their own control on the roadway, which may be difficult for some drivers to fathom.

Even so, self-driving cars will never be foolproof, and some accidents are bound to happen. With that in mind, how would legal liability be handled in the case of a car accident in which one or both of the vehicles were autonomous? The answers for the future are unclear. Notably, right now the lack of ability provided by self-driving cars would still put the liability of a crash on the human driver of the autonomous vehicle (though in the Florida case mentioned above, Tesla was federally inspected). Only time will tell how this plays out once autonomous vehicles are commonplace.

How Long Will It Be?

Some have projected that autonomous vehicles will be out and about by 2021. That number changes depending on who you ask, though. Right now, AI is being incorporated into our driving in other ways, primarily as a driver assistant. Its work with GPS systems and safety sensors are notable, both of which allow drivers to more safely and cautiously navigate from point A to B.

While these things may sound minuscule, they are not. Before AI can effectively drive a vehicle, it has to effectively manage one. Cars are complex machines, after all.

With all of this headway being made in the direction of autonomous vehicles, though, it would seem that drivers are less excited about self-driving cars than manufacturers may have expected. Without market demand, autonomous vehicles could possibly take longer to become commonplace. Right now though, it’s still looking like they’ll be on the roads within the next 10 years.

When they do find their way onto the streets and freeways we use every day, self-driving cars will change the way we think about driving forever. AI has already begun to do this with general transportation. It will be interesting to watch the progression of these machines once the costs and dangers they bring are diminished. And once that happens, the roadways will never be the same.

Have you ever seen, worked on, or ridden in a self-driving car? We’d love to hear about your experience, so please feel free to share it in the comments below!

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