Self-Driving Cars Are Not Ready for Prime Time
As the automotive industry appears to be staking its future on developing and producing autonomous vehicles, many American consumers are not thrilled with the idea of owning or operating a self-driving car. We enjoy driving, with the powerful feeling of freedom, of being at the wheel and controlling our own steering and speed. Some adventurous consumers feel excited at the prospect of autonomous vehicles, but most of us aren’t ready to trust their current safety technology.
Automakers and tech companies are investing billions of dollars in driverless technology, even as a recent American Automobile Association (AAA) survey showed that “seven in 10 Americans don’t want to go anywhere near self-driving cars,” reported insurancejournal.com. AAA found that 71 percent of Americans are afraid of autonomous vehicles, the same number as in 2018 (when the survey was conducted after an autonomous test vehicle operated by Uber Technologies Inc. killed a pedestrian), and eight percentage points higher than in 2017. Two driver fatalities have occurred in Tesla self-driving cars, with some assigning blame to the vehicles’ autopilot system.
In the meantime, the inventors and engineers involved in developing and testing self-driving vehicles in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs agree that we will not see these vehicles carrying passengers in every US city for a long time to come. Tesla is promising fully autonomous vehicles by early 2020. The most optimistic forecasters, however, predict it will take 10 years to put self-driving cars on the road. Stubborn problems remain to be solved that may take a lot longer before companies like Waymo, Uber, Ford, and General Motors start offering driverless rides.
However long it takes, researchers believe that self-driving technology will save lives by making riding much safer. A 2017 Rand corporation study found that the sooner highly automated vehicles are deployed, the more lives will ultimately be saved. They concluded that deploying cars that are just 10 percent safer than the average human driver would save more lives than waiting until they are 75 percent or 90 percent better.
Congress has yet to propose laws regarding autonomous vehicles. There was a push to pass self-driving legislation last year, but it went nowhere.
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