Driverless Vehicles Are Already On Our Roads

Driverless Vehicles Are Already On Our Roads

Driverless Vehicles Are Already On Our Roads

Texting while driving. Falling asleep at the wheel. Driving after a few too many beers.


What do all of these mistakes have in common? They are all common causes of fatal car accidents, and they are all caused by humans.


“To err is human,” as the saying goes. That’s why car accidents frequently occur despite the best efforts of our society and government to prevent them. Nobody’s perfect, so you can’t expect our roads to be—right?


The innovators and engineers at Google and other major car manufacturers are out to change this. Throughout recent years, these manufacturers have been developing and testing fully autonomous vehicles—robotic cars that can navigate without a human driver. These self-driving vehicles use tools such as radar, GPS, and computer vision to navigate and sense their surroundings, identifying roads, obstacles, and traffic signals.


While you can’t go out and buy an autonomous vehicle today, it looks as though it will be a short matter of time before these smart cars appear on the market. The commercial use of these vehicles has already kicked off, with several companies testing out the use of driverless military trucks and mining machines. Many states—including Florida, California, and Nevada—have passed legislation for driverless cars, granting auto manufacturers permission to test autonomous vehicles on their roads.


The Potential Benefits of Driverless Cars


The Potential Benefits of Driverless Cars

According to the Rand Corporation in their report, Autonomous Vehicle Technologies, Liability of Drivers, and Insurance, putting autonomous vehicles on the road in the place of human drivers can reduce the number of auto accidents. “Human error causes the vast majority of crashes today, and, by reducing the risk of human error, AV technologies can reduce the incidence of crashes,” the report maintains. After all, computers do not get sleepy or sidetracked, and will be far more aware of their surroundings than most humans.


And reduced potential for human error is only one of the potential benefits of driverless cars. Autonomous cars may help to prevent traffic jams and congestion, resulting in fewer fuel emissions. No more will drivers have to lose hours to commutes, instead using the time to work or relax. In addition, autonomous cars can provide a means for disabled and blind people to travel safely.


Concerns and Liability Issues


Sounds great, right? However, there are still some concerns surrounding the use of driverless vehicles.


Road planning. Integrating autonomous cars into our transportation system will require extensive planning. For cars to operate without a driver, road safety and driving laws that have been in place for generations will have to be revised. Road and traffic signals must be perfectly planned to the last detail for systems to be able to navigate them without confusion.


Incapacity for human interaction. Simple hand signals from construction workers and police officers will be difficult for cars to interpret. Additionally, the negligent and aggressive habits of the cars’ fellow human drivers might confuse the vehicles’ navigation systems. As executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University Sven A. Beiker suggested to reporters in a New York Times article, an autonomous car may be “so polite it might be sitting at a four-way intersection forever, because no one else is coming to a stop.”


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Technology problems. There’s also potential for technological disasters. Since vehicles will rely on satellite data, they are susceptible to attacks from hackers. Malicious hacking can cause extensive harm to computers and phones, and the potential for harm only increases when large, fast-moving vehicles are hacked. Additionally, autonomous cars filled with explosives could be used as weapons and bombs by terrorists.


Elimination of transportation-related jobs. If autonomous cars become widespread, automobile technicians, public transportation officials, and insurance agents may find themselves without an industry.


Liability and regulation issues. Regulation and liability questions abound. If there’s no driver behind the wheel, who will be held accountable if there is a problem—the person using the car or the manufacturer? What happens if a police officer wants to pull the car over? Will a self-driving car require a special kind of insurance?


Even though these autonomous vehicles can promote efficiency and eliminate human error, they can’t prevent accidents completely. And when an accident occurs, it will be difficult to prove fault if you are injured. When dealing with the complex issue of proving liability after a car accident—whether between two human drivers, a human driver and a robot driver, or two robot drivers—it’s best to contact an experienced auto accident attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you navigate complicated liability laws, protect your rights, and obtain fair compensation after an accident.



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Campaigns against Distracted Driving: What’s Working?

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Anything that takes a driver’s attention off the road is dangerous, but with more and more Americans owning and relying on cell phones, texting while driving has become a particularly pervasive problem. And with an estimated 350,000 distracted driving-related deaths per year, it’s a problem that our country has finally started noticing and trying to prevent.


41 states now ban texting while driving, with the Florida ban finally going into effect in October 2013. While making it against the law to text and drive is a good starting point, that act alone isn’t enough. In Florida, for example, texting while driving is only a secondary offense, which means that a police officer has to pull you over for something else—like speeding or driving erratically—rather than just asking you to stop because they’ve spotted you using your phone. And those people who do get cited for texting while driving only face a $30 fine—hardly a significant incentive for someone who’s determined to multitask behind the wheel.


So if distracted driving laws aren’t enough, what’s really going to stop people from texting while driving? The only truly effective way to stop this behavior is if we have a nationwide shift in the way we think about this dangerous activity.


Failing to See Danger in Texting While Driving


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Most drivers probably recognize on some level that they can’t fully concentrate on their surroundings while texting, and that sending a message while driving puts them at a greater risk for being in an accident. However, far too many people weigh the costs and benefits of texting while driving and decide that the risk is worth the immediate satisfaction of sending and receiving messages. They think that accidents only happen to other people, and that they’re more capable of safely multitasking than the general population. Teen drivers, who have not yet fully developed the part of their brain involved in problem-solving, are at a particularly high risk for this kind of flawed thinking.


To address the logical fallacy that “texting while driving isn’t that dangerous for me,” many government organizations and private companies have launched campaigns aimed at emphasizing the risks of distracted driving. Notable recent campaigns include:


  • End Distracted Driving (EndDD) uses their website to encourage people to host presentations or become speakers to educate their communities about the dangers of distracted driving.
  • Verizon notes that mobile phones are a part of everyday life, but wants to encourage people to put them away while driving. They recently launched a video PSA showing text messages popping up and blocking a driver’s view, and they’re encouraging viewers to pledge to drive responsibly.
  • Toyota, recognizing the problem of drivers taking “selfies” on their phones, created an ad showing a totaled car through different Instagram filters with the tagline, “Don’t Shoot and Drive.”


These types of campaigns are beginning to raise awareness about the distracted driving issue, but in order for the idea to really take hold, we need to make texting while driving culturally unacceptable in our society.


Designated Driver Campaign Serves as Good Example


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If we’re looking for ways to change the way our society views texting while driving, the designated driver campaign launched in 1988 provides some good examples. Before the campaign was launched, the idea of having someone stay sober to drive their friends home wasn’t something that had ever really caught on in the US. However, the campaign, which kicked off with the slogan “The Designated Driver is the Life of the Party!” made the designated driver a new social norm. The campaign made further inroads when many popular TV shows, such as The Cosby Show and Cheers, added scenes with designated drivers. Thanks to the pervasiveness of the campaign, by 1998 a majority of adults who drink had either been a designated driver or had a sober friend drive them home at some point.


If distracted driving campaigns are going to cause the same kind of cultural shift, they need to be integrated into mainstream culture. As with the designated driver campaign, maybe we could see more TV and movie scenes where characters choose not to text and drive—or do but suffer negative consequences, as a result. Once putting your phone away while driving becomes a culturally accepted norm, it will become much easier to curb distracted driving.