We see public safety advertisements on television all the time that warn us of the dangers associated with drinking and driving and using our cellphones while behind the wheel.
According to a recent study conducted by the Eno Center for Transportation Leadership, a cure for those automotive safety ills may be just around the corner – cars that can drive themselves.
Once you’re able to leave the driving to your car, you can text, go out for a night on the town, scarf a Big Mac and fries, or do all three of those activities at the same time and still manage to arrive at your destination without endangering yourself or others on the road.
Price Could Decrease
Right now the price tag for this technology would push the cost of a Hyundai up into Aston Martin territory by adding about $100,000 to each vehicle. However, according to the study, the price will decrease as production becomes a reality.
The Eno study notes that in recent years there has been an increasing amount of computer control in cars, including features like adaptive cruise control and automated parking systems that allow cars to squeeze themselves into tight parking spots while the “driver” sits back and watches. So far, fully self-driving cars have been limited to projects funded by groups like Google and the auto makers themselves, but they could someday become the norm on our roads and highways.
The major benefits of such vehicles are increased safety, less congestion, better mobility for the physically and mentally impaired, and lower shipping costs.
Currently, of the approximately 5.5 million crashes that occur in the United States each year, humans are at fault 93 percent of the time. These crashes cost the economy about $300 billion. More than 32,000 crashes result in fatalities, and 2.22 million result in either injuries or fatalities. Alcohol is involved in 31 percent of all fatal crashes.
It’s easy to see that if humans can be taken out of the equation, crashes should dramatically decrease in number. This would result in a similar drop in the number of lives lost, the amount of property damage incurred, the number of physical injuries suffered and the health care and emergency responding costs associated with these vehicle accidents.
Self-driving vehicles can be developed that can better sense and perhaps even anticipate braking and acceleration from the vehicles that are leading traffic. Human drivers are less adept at this, and when humans suddenly hit the brakes, it causes “traffic destabilizing shockwaves” on our highways that impedes traffic flow.
Smoother braking, steadier speeds and better spacing would also improve fuel efficiency and be better for a vehicle’s braking system. It would also increase the capacity of our current roads and highways without the need for additional lanes. However, these kinds of improvements depend not only on self-driving cars but also on computer systems that allow vehicles to communicate with one another and road infrastructure that allows for vehicle communication.
When this technology is sufficiently developed to allow for driverless trucks, freight companies will save money due to the decreased fuel costs of more efficient driving and the need to employ fewer drivers. These improvements promise to be great for the bottom line.
With a rapidly growing population of senior citizens, self-driving cars hold a lot of promise for improving their opportunity of mobility in their later years. We probably all know older drivers who will not drive on unfamiliar roads or who no longer drive at night. Self-driving cars could eliminate these self-imposed limitations and still maintain highway safety.
Now that we can look forward to the day when we won’t have to drive our own cars, do you think we’ll ever again see the day when we won’t have to pump our own gas?
Maybe that’s only a dream.
Emily Turberville-Tully, who writes for HR Owen, enjoys a ride through the English countryside or staying at home entertaining her two young sons. Emily has a passion for interior design and anything home related.