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Autonomous Vehicles: So Far Not So Safe

The push towards vehicle automation and autonomous driving has been growing larger, creating a very competitive market.  Nearly all of the Big-Name car brands are working on some form of autonomous driving, with a few having already achieved this.

A significant driving force to this development is monetary.  The more gadgets you put in a car, the more you can charge.  But the car companies emphasize safety, which is hard to argue with.  They all claim to aspire for a safer future; a future where the roads have fewer accidents because human error has been reduced.

Seven Companies Leading The Way

While companies such as Tesla, Volvo and Mercedes offer nearly autonomous driving, most are not there yet, with some recent incidents calling into question what is going on here.

Nissan/Infiniti have developed technology that will break or accelerate based on the car ahead of you.

Cadillac have pre-mapped routes that are entirely autonomous, but you must stick to those routes.  As soon as your destination requires a detour, you are back to regular driving.

Audi and BMW have the least autonomous technology, only assisting the driver with the stop-and-go that occurs in a traffic jam.  These degrees of driver involvement actually correlate to 5 levels of autonomy in vehicles.


New technologies to prevent accidents and personal injuries

The Five Levels

Level 1: Vehicle performs minor steering or acceleration tasks; all other operations are under full human control.

Level 2: Vehicle automatically responds to safety situations, but the driver must remain alert and responsive.

Level 3: Vehicle performs certain “safety-critical functions” under various traffic or environmental conditions.

Level 4: Vehicle can operate without requiring human input.

Level 5: Vehicle operates with full automation in any environment (weather or traffic).

The Higher The Level, The Greater The Risk of Accident

Vehicle autonomy is still in its infancy, so statistics on exactly how dangerous it may prove to be is unknown.  However, there are two tragic deaths that suggest that the more autonomous the vehicle, the greater the risk of accident.

Earlier this year, a man was driving a Tesla and had Autopilot turned on.  The man had only taken his hands off of the wheel for six seconds, well within the recommended time-frame, when it crashed.  An investigation revealed that the driver had been using Autopilot correctly, and suggested that it was likely a technology malfunction.

Similarly, in 2018 a Volvo had been in autonomous mode when it hit a pedestrian and killed her.  The car had apparently not slowed as it approached the woman, suggesting that it had not sensed her at all.

Are We Truly Ready For Autonomy?

The answer is: Maybe. Like all technological advancements, this is a work in progress.  Unfortunately, two lives have been lost due to what may be products hitting the road before they are ready.  What we do know, however, is that the lower-level autonomous vehicles have not presented with these issues.  They seem to be safer, with a lower risk of injury or accident.  Perhaps for now they are the best available option.

Road Rules by Dominique McCrimmon and Cedric Hughes