Self-driving Cars: Fantasy to Reality by 2020

The era of the self-driving car is here, and automotive experts predict that you will be sharing the road with 10 million self-driving cars by the year 2020. The technology for self-driving cars already exists; it consists of a combination of sophisticated sensors, advanced computer vision systems, and software to process the data. A self-driving car, or autonomous car, is defined as any car with features that allow it to accelerate, brake, and steer a course with limited or no driver interaction. In other words, it is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. The result of decades of research and development, self-driving cars are no longer futuristic fantasy machines.

Technology in Today’s Cars

technology in self-driving carsAlthough you probably don’t recognize it, if you drive a late model car you have already encountered autonomous car technology. In fact, the same technology that will soon enable cars to function without a driver is already standard in many new vehicles. Lane-assist warnings, automated parallel parking, and automatic front-end braking are examples of autonomous vehicle technology. Other examples that are already available include blind spot assistance, smart phone apps for remote ignition and door locking, and vehicle location apps that alert parents if their teenagers drive outside a set location range or above a safe speed.

Self-driving Cars: Timeline and Cost Projections

Experts predict that manufacturers will deliver vehicles with the first highly automated functions around the year 2020 or soon thereafter. Drivers of these vehicles will be able to check emails, make phone calls, and read the news without focusing any attention on monitoring the car’s driving system. However, this initial wave of technology will have limitations, and in certain situations, drivers will be given a 15 or 20 second warning before they have to take the wheel. driverless cars on the roadDuring the next 5 to 15 years, self-driving cars will mostly be expensive novelties with limited abilities. Companies are currently reluctant to release pricing data for driverless cars, but estimates place the cost of producing the new technology at more than $100,000 per car, which is out of the price range for the majority of middle class families. As with most new technologies, self-driving cars are expected to improve in performance and become more affordable over time. By the 2040’s and 2050’s, driverless cars should be able to function safely in all road and weather conditions and should be affordable for mainstream consumers.

Safety Advantages of Self-driving Cars

safety of self-driving carsSafety is the primary motivator of the self-driving car project. In the U.S., automobiles kill 4,800 pedestrians per year according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car accidents are responsible for almost 33,000 deaths annually as reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics for 2014. Pennsylvania lost almost 1200 lives that year to car accidents, which is the fifth highest state in the nation. Government research shows that driver error is likely the primary cause of 90 percent of accidents. Unlike people, the computer sensors in self-driving cars never get tired, and they always work at the same level. The complicated technology in self-driving cars enables on board computers to make literally hundreds of calculations per second. Sensors constantly monitor how far you are from objects, your current speed, behavior of other cars, and your location on the globe. Studies of self-driving cars show that the speed and accuracy of autonomous vehicle technology have virtually eliminated driving errors. In addition, government studies show that self-driving vehicles will eliminate incidents involving alcohol, distraction, drugs, fatigue, speeding, aggressive driving, inexperience, slow reaction times, and various other human shortcomings. Projections show that if just 10 percent of all cars in the U.S. were self-driving, the number of traffic deaths per year would likely drop by 1,000. And what if 90 percent of all vehicles on the road were self-driving? Then the number of lives saved per year could be more than 20,000!

Multi-tasking and Mobility: Additional Benefits of Self-driving Cars

driverless car.jpgThe average American has a daily commute of 50 minutes, and pilot studies of self-driving cars reported that participants replaced the time they would normally devote to road safety with activities such as chatting with friends and catching up on reading. Participants also reported that they exerted less personal energy during their commutes, and that they were more likely to participate in after-work activities such as cooking and exercising. Another major advantage of self-driving cars involves the potential use by disabled individuals, some of whom currently have to rely on public transportation and assistance from others for mobility. Self-driving cars could change the daily lives of disabled people by giving them new freedom and more independence. The elderly could enjoy a similar benefit as their declining ability to drive carefully could be mitigated by autonomous driver technology.

Legislation, Liability, and New Technology

self-driving cars

Road testing of driverless cars is legal in these states

Before self-driving cars are allowed unlimited access to roadways, legislation must be changed. And what about potential liability issues? Autonomous driver technology doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of a car accident, and no one knows yet who will bear responsibility in the event of an accident. It could be the car manufacturer, the software developer, or the vehicle occupant. The attorneys of Donaghue & Labrum have decades of experience with product liability and car accident cases. If you have been the victim of a car accident or injured by a faulty product, you need aggressive legal representation to ensure that you receive compensation for your damages. Contact the law offices of Donaghue & Labrum for a free consultation. Donahgue & Labrum is here to serve you.