Would You Trust a Driverless Car in a Blizzard?

This winter has again brought powerful winter storms to many parts of the U.S. In Connecticut, it’s the shoreline that has felt the worst of winter’s punch – at least so far.

Now imagine yourself in a driverless car in one of these storms.

It’s a fairly easy thing to imagine a driverless car working well on a sunny day and dry roads – easily avoiding hazards and car accidents. Right?

What about when the weather changes?

In a snowstorm – the driving environment gets infinitely more complicated and often changes rapidly from one moment to the next. On one stretch of road there may be snow drifts to avoid, on another – patches of ice, and even farther down the road there may be blowing snow that completely obscures just the surface of the road.

How will the computers driving these driverless cars “see” and understand these hazards and make safe choices to avoid car accidents?

Technology experts working on these new vehicles readily admit the challenges of driving in winter conditions will be difficult to solve.

Here are a couple of examples of the complexities car manufacturers face…

Many autopilot systems, those already in use (Tesla), and those being developed in the “laboratory”, use cameras and other sensing systems to see the road. When heavy snow is falling through the air – many of these systems struggle to “see” anything beyond the cloud of snowflakes directly in from of them. In effect – they become blind.

What’s more, through experience, human drivers have learned there are certain tricks to safely maneuvering on snow covered highways – tricks that amount to breaking common rules of the road.   As an example, in snowstorms – it’s not uncommon for drivers to leave designated lanes to follow the tracks of vehicles in front of them.   Doing so often makes travel a bit safer. But will computerized guidance systems be able to break with convention – rules programmed into their “thinking” – to adjust to these winter conditions? And how will they know when to adjust?

Some car makers – Tesla in particular – already claim that their forward looking guidance systems are great at detecting fast moving, large objects – even in fog, rain and snow. Notice though, the emphasis on “fast moving and large”…

Another concern… What about the relatively primitive driver support systems already built into most vehicles – like antilock braking and stability control – that are often called upon in bad weather. How will engineers coordinate and integrate those helpful but “dumber” systems so as not to confuse or disrupt the self driving computer control.

Reducing the number of car accidents on Connecticut roads is an urgent priority for everyone. And much is at stake for drivers, car companies, insurance companies and governments when it comes to the potential technological marvels that driverless cars will be. What does the future hold?

Hard to know, but we will be following the story in the months and years to come.

If you’re ever injured in a car accident of any kind, know that the Connecticut car accident lawyers at RisCassi & Davis have been assisting drivers injured in accidents for over 60 years. And we have received both state and national recognition for our work in this area. If you are ever in a car accident of any kind and would like a free consultation with one of our Connecticut car accident lawyers, please contact usThere is no obligation.