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Cars are rapidly changing. Are innovations like self-driving cars the dawn of a new era, or just a far-fetched fantasy? Can we trust them to get us from point A to point B safely if they become the future mode of transportation?
Currently, the public has little faith in the concept of self-driving cars. In a recent poll, 15% of people in the United States said they don't believe self-driving cars will ever be commercially available, and 42% said they would never ride in one. Furthermore, 56% of those polled said they would demand 100 percent safety before taking a ride, and 60% said they would demand the same level of safety – 100 percent – before allowing a family member to ride in a self-driving car.
Is this, however, equitable? "Driver error is believed to be the main reason for over 90% of all crashes," according to the Eno Center for Transportation, a non-profit, independent think tank in Washington, DC. The replacement of driver-controlled cars with self-driving cars could result in far safer road travel.
However, in order to get to this point, all of the vehicles on the road would have to be self-driving. According to a survey, with self-driving cars accounting for only 10% of all vehicles purchased and sold by 2034, so it could be a long time before this happens.
So, we know it'll take a while, and in the meantime, there will be a mix of self-driving, partially self-driving, and non-self-driving vehicles on the roads. It's possible that this will cause issues. Bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the road, for example, may make incorrect assumptions about a car's ability to detect them.
We must be confident that self-driving cars will be safe and reliable, and there's still work to be done. There have already been a few instances where self-driving cars have killed or seriously injured other road users because they did not behave as expected in specific traffic scenarios.
Self-driving cars will also be limited to certain roads with adequate infrastructure – such as road markings and signs – so that a car can "read" the road and know what to do in various situations.
Without them, the car will either give up and shut down leaving its occupants stranded, hand control over to the driver thus defeating the purpose of self-driving cars or do something completely unpredictable and potentially disastrous.
Current discussions of road safety are increasingly shaped by self-driving technology. However, much more innovation is required before self-driving cars can be made affordable and widely adopted on a global scale.
As a result, it's still too early to assess the impact of self-driving cars on traffic safety. We must keep in mind that eliminating traffic deaths and injuries necessitates both a safe road system and complementary technological solutions.
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