Are Cars Really Capable of Driverless Travel?

The last five years have seen a huge jump in efforts to design cars that can drive themselves. From the President recently calling for major investment in this new technology, to universities like Carnegie Mellon and car companies like GM and Tesla all committing substantial resources to the project – some believe driverless cars are just around the corner.

Many auto executive say yes… But are they?

Can vehicles that are truly autonomous be safe?

And if there are flaws in any self-driving technology system – who will bear the liability for car and truck accidents?

Complicated questions to be sure.

While some cars are beginning to drive a bit on their own, most auto experts believe true driverless cars are at least a decade away…

What about the near term?

Soon – cars with increasingly sophisticated guidance systems are expected to be able to follow curving roads, change lanes, stop and start and travel safely through intersections on their own.

What about in more complex driving situations – where weather or traffic congestion are extreme? What then?

Well – most experts believe that for the foreseeable future, all cars will continue to need a degree of human supervision. In fact, the so called “handoff” from computerized navigation to human control may in fact be the trickiest part to design.

Why?

Think about it. So called driverless technology will increasingly encourage drivers to pay even less attention to the road than they do now. Sightseeing, conversation, texting, searching and chatting will become even more common for the humans in control of these vehicles. And when a complex driving situation arises – particularly in the spur of the moment – how will driverless technology get a driver’s attention to quickly and safely handoff control?

And what insurance or car company will want to assume the liability for mistakes, miscues, and car accidents that result from bad handoffs? For that matter – how many states will actually permit fully driverless driving?

Surely – computer technology is destined to make cars and trucks safer to drive, resulting in fewer accidents. But auto makers, regulators and legislators have difficult issues to tackle and problems to solve before true driverless vehicles become a reality.

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