Everyone has seen the television commercials for smart cars which have the capability of stopping when traffic conditions are sensed, before harm can befall any of the drivers in the scenario. Vehicles which can react to traffic situations without driver intervention have been on the testing table for several years, and there are already numerous prototypes which go far beyond intelligent braking, and are completely self-driven. In addition to Google, Bosch, Tesla, Nissan, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Uber – Delphi has an autonomous vehicle which has already completed a 3,500 mile journey from San Francisco to New York City.

How they work

These robot cars make use of advanced GPS tracking systems to establish their location, and are equipped with a number of the high-tech gadgets like sensors, high-powered cameras, learning software, and laser illuminating detection and ranging (LIDAR). In addition, they have powerful detection capabilities to correctly identify pedestrians, cyclists, and traffic signs which are within the area surrounding the car. All this technology is put to use in choosing an appropriate speed, accelerating, braking, making turns, and anticipating the actions of other vehicles within the area of influence. In effect, drivers of autonomous vehicles could sit back and relax, letting the robot do all the work and make all the decisions.

How safe are these cars?

Experts in the field say that it’s not a question of IF this technology will ever come to the road, but when. The consensus of opinion seems to be by the year 2025, and the reason for the delay until that time has less to do with the vehicles’ capability than with regulatory issues. It will be necessary to determine how robot vehicles can be included in a traffic flow along with vehicles operated exclusively by humans behind the wheel.

Instead of any questions about how safe these robot-operated vehicles are, some proponents insist that the technology should be introduced as quickly as possible because they are so safe they can save lives. The number one cause of deaths related to severe crashes in this country is attributed to driver error, and the reasons for driver error range from drunk driving to distracted driving. Advocates of robot-operated vehicles say that the vast majority of these kinds of crashes would be completely eliminated by autonomous smart cars.

Self-driving cars could actually reduce the rate of automobile-related deaths in this country by 90 – 95%, and save more than $400 billion on the costs of such accidents. However, in order for this kind of amazing improvement in traffic accidents to be realized, all vehicles on the road would have to be operated by robots. Presumably in an integrated driving environment, at least a significant reduction of fatal crashes would be realized. In theory, congestion and minor traffic accidents would also be relieved to a large extent because cars could safely travel at a higher speed and could be closer to each other, without fear of collision.

Moving forward

So far at least, tests have borne out the fact that autonomous cars can be much safer than human-driven vehicles. Once the issues have been discussed and resolved about how to establish traffic patterns with mixed driving systems – humans and robots – we may all discover just how safe.