When we first heard about self-driving cars, most of us thought, “What? How is this possible?” But with advances in the technology of these vehicles—many of them so mind-blowing that the average person cannot even fathom—the “future” of self-driving cars is now.
In the ever-evolving world of car software and technology, at this point, self-driving vehicles are far from perfect. There’s the common question of “How does a self-driving car react to unexpected occurrences” without having a brain and the quick reaction time of a human driver.
Also, how can self-driving vehicles ever be able to handle pedestrians walking out of the crosswalk, cyclists crossing in front of them, and unexpected road hazards that pop up in the street without warning?
Therein lies the problem with most of the self-driving models on American roadways. Without a brain and the quick reaction time of a human driver, accidents are happening; many self-driving cars have shown that they’re unable to react quickly enough (or at all) to avoid deadly collisions with cars, pedestrians, bikes, and motorcycles.
Car Crash Numbers
Motor vehicle crash fatalities are an epidemic all over the country, with over 37,000 people killed each year on U.S. roadways in car and truck collisions. A staggering 94% of those are caused by human error (e.g. speeding, driving drunk, and distracted driving). Advocates of driverless vehicles say that human error as a cause of car crashes will be eliminated, however, but many of those opposed to these vehicles disagree.
Expecting the Unexpected
One problem is that information technologists haven’t devised a way to invent a self-driving vehicle that will always be able to react appropriately (and quickly enough) to the many variables that affect everyday driving safety.
There are unpredictable forces at work on roadways at any given time, like drivers making sudden stops and lane changes, people darting in front of vehicles, motorcycles and bikes ignoring right of way rules, etc. It’s virtually impossible to predict how drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists will behave on the road. Some suggest that the self-driving cars should have their own lane (similar to HOV and bike lanes you see on roadways today).
Even though many of today’s new makes and models come equipped with automatic braking systems, forward collision warning systems, blind spot monitoring systems, and lane departure warning systems, drivers must still contend with the unpredictable debris in the road, speeders, distracted drivers, unsecured cargo on semi-trucks, animals darting in front of vehicles, and similar circumstances no self-driving vehicle will have adequate time to prepare for or react to in a split second.
Necessary Oversight of Self-Driving Vehicles
A new bill (currently pending before Congress) called “American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START),” would grant federal safety exemptions to some manufacturers and allow untested electric vehicles into the marketplace. The House of Representatives has already passed a similar bill, but consumer and safety groups are opposed to the bill stating strict regulations need to be added.
These safety groups want all crashes to be reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and that data records need to be installed in self-driving vehicles. Considering fatal crashes, like the one in Arizona in March 2018 when an Uber self-driving vehicle with a “safety driver” behind the wheel hit and killed a pedestrian while the “driver” was looking at her phone instead of the road, self-driving vehicles have a long way to go before people feel safe sharing the road with them.