Automakers, tech companies and others (like Uber) are currently developing self-driving cars and testing them on public roads across the U.S. Also referred to as driverless or autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars are expected to be available to the public as soon as 2020.
Given how soon that is, we’ve put together some of the most important facts to know about self-driving cars. These facts shed light on the complexities and potential impacts of these vehicles.
What You Need to Know about Self-Driving Cars
- There are six “levels” of self-driving cars – These levels are essentially classifications that designate the degree to which a vehicle is autonomous, based on the self-driving features it has. Level 0 indicates no self-driving features, meaning a human driver is fully responsible for controlling the car’s functions. In contrast, Levels 4 and 5 indicate nearly and completely autonomous (respectively), meaning that little to no human driver interaction is needed to operate and control the vehicle.
- Passenger cars are not the only types of self-driving vehicles being developed – In addition to self-driving passenger vehicles, self-driving buses and autonomous commercial trucks are being developed and tested. The Department of Defense is also reportedly developing self-driving military vehicles that they intend to use for combat and various types of missions.
- Many vehicles currently on the roads have features of autonomous cars – This includes advanced safety features like (but not limited to) steering assistance and automatic forward-collision braking.
- Driverless vehicles are expected to save thousands of lives – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 94 percent of all traffic crashes are caused by some human error. By reducing a human driver’s role in controlling vehicles, self-driving cars are expected to prevent car accidents and save tens of thousands of lives each year.
- Adverse weather may present problems for self-driving cars – While the technology and features of driverless cars are undoubtedly advanced, it is unclear how bad weather conditions (like sleet, snowstorms and hail) may impact these features. Some expect that the makers of self-driving vehicles may have to issue warnings about the types of weather conditions in which these cars should not be operated.
- The biggest hurdle to the deployment of self-driving cars is clear, consistent regulations – State and federal regulators across the U.S. have yet to establish any laws regarding what agency monitors driverless cars, how these vehicles should be regulated and who is liable for accidents involving these cars. There are also no regulations regarding data collection and privacy issues associated with these vehicles. That leaves a lot of unknowns, and many are urging officials to address these issues as soon as possible.
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