Autonomous or self-driving vehicles are one aspect of a plan that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) hopes will contribute to eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030 as part of its “Vision Zero” project.
A study conducted by Global Positioning Specialists reports that autonomous vehicles could be the impetus for the United States becoming a world leader in vehicle safety and economic improvements, as per Hybrid Cars.com. The study’s findings foresee the reduction of the economic costs associated with traffic accidents by about tenfold with the adoption of autonomous vehicles. Currently, the U.S. is at the top of a list of 73 countries with significant economic losses ($340 billion) from traffic crashes every year. India is second to the U.S. with about $62 billion of economic losses each year from traffic crashes.
When the NHTSA released the new federal guidelines for auto safety and technology innovations last year, it included a 15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles. In the same story mentioned above, Jeffrey Zients, of the National Economic Council (“NEC”) said, “We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting.”
Uber Technologies and Google are on the forefront of testing autonomous vehicles in several cities in the U.S. Uber Technologies has been running a self-driving car program in Tempe, Arizona and in Pittsburgh, PA which had to be temporarily suspended after a crash at the end of March. There were no injuries from the crash and the Uber vehicle did not cause the collision according to the Tempe police.
Bloomberg.com reports that the other vehicle failed to yield for the self-driving car, and the collision caused it to flip over on its side. While there was a person inside the Uber vehicle at the time of the crash, it is unclear whether they were controlling the vehicle.
Because so many traffic collisions are the result of human error, federal safety regulators hope that having a computer equipped with cameras, radar and other sensors, behind the wheel that is not prone to falling asleep at the wheel, driving after drinking too much, getting distracted or provoked to road rage can eliminate most traffic crashes. The Uber crash in March and other car crashes between human-powered and autonomous vehicles illustrate the limitations of technology, and reveals that some crashes may not be avoidable, especially when self-driving cars coexist with human-driven cars.
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