The idea of autonomous transportation has appeared in science fiction for decades, and finally society is developing the technology to incorporate self-driving cars into the realm of reality.
The concept of self-driving cars, currently well into development by tech juggernauts like Google, Uber and Apple, as well as automobile companies like Mercedes-Benz and Honda, are as little as a handful of years away from the first fully autonomous model finding its way to a dealership near you.
According to a BI Intelligence study, 10 million fully automated cars will be on the road by the end of the decade.
They will provide unprecedented luxury in a vehicle, reducing commutes and creating hundreds of hours of productivity that would otherwise be spent behind a wheel.
The biggest question, however, is safety. Currently, automobile accidents account for over 30,000 deaths each year, and that number appears to be climbing for the first time since the 1970s.
Will self-driving cars affect that number? Many Americans think so.
A 2014 Harris poll found 65 percent of Americans think self-driving cars are “a dangerous idea.” It might be best not to tell them that other modes of transportation, such as airplanes, have been at least partially automatic for years now.
Transportation experts expect that widespread implementation of autonomous vehicles would drastically reduce the number of automobile accidents. Studies report that self-driving cars would eliminate 90 percent of automobile accidents and decrease insurance damage costs. The computer driving the car would not be susceptible to the major factors currently contributing to accidents, like distraction or drunk driving.
But the concern is that self-driving cars would not be able to properly account for obstacles smaller than cars, like pedestrians or cyclists. These cars are currently on the road undergoing rigorous testing and have not been the cause of a single accident.
As of July 2015, Google’s self-driving car project had experienced 23 accidents, 22 of which involved another driver hitting the car, and one case of the autonomous feature being turned off and the temporary operator of the car causing an accident. There were no accidents that were directly attributed to the self-driving vehicle itself.
The cars have had numerous encounters with people outside of cars, all of them resulting in an expertly cautious car proceeding without any incident.
The way Google’s project expresses its awareness and errs on the side of caution in all situations led one biker who came across one of the cars to declare, “I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.”
A journalist who rode in one of the Google cars specifically mentions a moment exhibiting a situation that is much better handled by the radar used to see by a self-driving car than unreliable human eyes.
He describes a moment when “the car recognized and halted for a cyclist who was concealed behind a row of hedges,” something a human would, at the very least, have to be extremely vigilant and lucky to spot.
These cars are nearly ready for our roads, and while the general public is not yet willing to accept the idea of having to share the road with a computer, those who have interacted with the cars themselves are eager for them to become commonplace and recognize the huge strides in safety the cars will make.
Humans were never designed to drive, as we are unable to see in most directions and possess a knack for finding distractions.
Luckily, that looks like a problem we’ve been able to solve and should be seeing the benefits of very shortly.
It is clear that the popular and mass-scale introduction of self-driving cars would result in increased safety amongst the general populace, increased transportation equity and bring about a wave of associated health, economic and social benefits.