Smart cars are receiving more and more attention as they get closer to taking over the roads. Major companies like Tesla, Google, Uber, Volvo and BMW are manufacturing and testing smart car features to bring the autonomous vehicles of the future into the present.
But are these tests safe? And will self-driving cars really be safer in the future? Here’s a closer look:
Types of Autonomy
While you may think that all self-driving cars are fully automated and drivers don’t have to pay attention to the road, that’s not necessarily the case. According to Consumer Reports, there are five levels of automation to know:
- Driver Assistance: As the driver, you are in charge of the operation of the vehicle at all times. The automation comes in only in one aspect of the driving experience, such as steering or speed. For example, adaptive cruise control falls under this type of automation.
- Partial Automation: You are still in control of the car at all times and need to pay attention to road and safety conditions. The car can take over pieces of the driving experience under certain conditions, such as acceleration, braking and steering.
- Conditional Automation: This is where full automation starts to come in. The vehicle can drive by itself, but you need to pay attention to the road and the car’s warnings to take over if need be.
- Â High Automation: This type of vehicle is fully autonomous under certain conditions, such as highway driving or specified routes. You don’t need to pay as much attention to the road because these cars have backup technology in case the first line of defense fails. It also knows when to pull over and shut down for safety reasons.
- Full Automation: These vehicles are completely self-driving. They don’t have a steering wheel or pedals because they don’t expect to need any human intervention.
Today’s Autonomous Cars and Safety
Only the first two (maybe three) levels of automation can be seen on the road today. Most people already know how to use cruise control and consider it to be safe because the driver is paying attention to the road. Many other cars are starting to use smart braking, steering and parking as part of their everyday functions. For example, many new cars can alert you if you start to drift out of your lane or if you’re about to merge into a car in your blind spot. Others can help you parallel park by giving you instructions or completely doing it for you.
These features boost a vehicle’s safety because they are in addition to driver control. A great example is autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which uses lasers, cameras and radar to sense if you’re about to hit the car in front of you. If so, it will automatically put on the brakes. AEB has resulted in a 38 percent decrease in rear-end accidents, according to a study conducted by Euro NCAP and Australasian NCAP, which was reported by The Guardian.
Tomorrow’s Autonomous Cars and Safety
When you think of autonomous vehicles and safety, you’re probably more concerned about cars that don’t require human interference. For example, Google has been testing cars that don’t have steering wheels or pedals. This is brand new territory, and it can be scary to think about robots having complete control.
However, you have to consider that humans haven’t been doing a great job at keeping themselves safe. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 90 percent of accidents are due to human error. If you add in drinking and driving statistics and road rage incidents, there are millions of accidents each year caused by human emotion and impairment â€” two things autonomous cars don’t have.Â
While you may have reasons to be nervous about the transition to self-driving cars, they are sure to make roads safer in the future. During this in-between stage, new drivers still have to pass written and practical driving tests and humans are still in control of their vehicles. The major technology and car companies are slowly manufacturing, testing and rolling out new autonomous features. One day cars will be completely autonomous (after lots and lots of testing with human assistance), but there’s still plenty of time to get used to the idea.
Author: Andy Quayle
Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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