June 9, 2016
A revolution in automotive technology is on the forefront with the recent development of self-driving cars. An idea that in the past seemed so futuristic is know just a few steps away from being made possible in 21st century America. It is said that millions of self-driving cars are projected to be on the road by 2020. However, as the testing stages begin to commence with prototype vehicles, there appears to be some major safety concerns that still need to be addressed.
Rain, fog, and snow are all conditions that have proven to be obstacles for self-driving cars. Specifically, these weather conditions can disrupt the sensors and in a sense "confuse" the vehicle of its exact location. Ford is creating 3-D maps for its self-driving vehicles that lay out distinct details, pinpointing the exact position of the curb and road lines along with other important information to be heeded, such as speed limits and rules and regulations. Google is also in the works of experimenting with Lidar sensors in order to better navigate in these kinds of weather conditions. For now, Google self-driving cars are programmed to pull over in inclement weather conditions.
The more the vehicle knows about its surroundings, the less it has to depend on its sensors. However, this still does not solve all the problems associated with bad weather. For example, rain and snow can still prevent cameras and Lidar from working properly. Being able to see and detect obstacles in inclement weather, such as pedestrians or objects are still a major safety concern.
Self-driving cars also raise other safety concerns. When there's no human control over steering, acceleration, or braking, there could be significant danger to the vehicle's passengers if something were to go wrong. The fact that the car operates through a computer system could potentially leave it vulnerable to hackers.
In order for self-driving cars to be allowed in each state, the industry desperately needs the Federal government to regulate self-driving cars, rather than at the state level. California recently issued draft rules expressly prohibiting driverless cars. However, if the Federal government were to regulate self-driving cars, it would have to change its regulations and has made no mention to do so to date.
Once the major safety concerns are addressed, the development of self-driving cars could significantly decrease traffic accidents and death, as well as reduce highway backups and improve the environment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a statement back in February of 2016 that indicated it is in support of driverless vehicles.