Driverless Car Technology: Look, No Hands!

The days of maintaining the proper driving technique of keeping your hands at the 10 and 2 o’clock position on the steering wheel may soon be gone forever. While driverless motoring has been a concept only dreamed of for nearly 100 years, Google and other car manufacturers are bringing autonomous motoring into the new millennium. In fact, Google’s version of the driverless car is devoid of the steering wheel, pedals, switches and controls.

Google’s aggressive approach once envisioned everyday autonomous motoring to be a reality as early as 2017. However, many of the tweaks and adjustments required to get it just right are pushing the launch of production models farther than the year 2020. This is because all manufacturers interested in driverless car technology, including Lexis and Toyota, must find ways to shrink the overall cost and size of a workable vehicle.

Saving Lives

More than one million drivers and passengers are killed every year in traffic accidents worldwide. The World Health Organization expects that number to reach nearly two million by 2020. If driverless car manufacturers can work out the remaining problems involved with autonomous motoring, many lives could be spared. This is because more than nine out of every 10 accidents are caused by driver error. So theoretically, death tolls would drop significantly if vehicles have the capacity to drive themselves.

In addition to providing safety benefits impossible to achieve with the driver behind the wheel, driverless vehicles provide other obvious advantages. All vehicles could operate uncoordinated routes in close formation. This would increase road network capacity while saving fuel in reducing congestion. The vehicle could drop all passengers off at their destination and then go park itself.

Car Sharing Solutions

Widespread car sharing might also be a wave of the future, where any size car or truck could be “dispatched on demand” to individuals requiring them. This type of “on-demand” vehicle would save on the number of cars and trucks required on the roadways, or the number of congested parking lots in large urban areas.

Autonomous motoring provides easy transportation to the disabled and elderly, and assists them in maintaining their independence far easier than anything available today. Much of the stress involved in driving would be eliminated. Now every vehicle occupant would be a passenger, and could take a nap, surf the Internet, read or talk on the phone without worry while traveling.

Lower Emissions

By having far fewer vehicles on the road every day and maximizing travel efficiency by eliminating congestion, driverless vehicles will significantly lower emissions. In a world with driverless vehicles, every car on the road would take the quickest path to its destination, and avoid spending wasted minutes idling at stoplights, and minimizing the release of harmful exhaust gases into the atmosphere.

There are significant economic and societal benefits to driverless car technology including a decreased number of vehicle accidents and associated loss of life. The technology will offer greater independence through increased mobility for the disabled, blind and elderly. Billions will be saved every year in fuel bills due to less congestion and more efficient driving. Stress will be reduced by minimizing the potential of traffic jams while providing more flexibility for commuting or leisure traveling.

Google's self-driving car

Google’s self-driving car

However, certain legalities will need to be worked out when driverless cars finally take to the roadway on their own. The law will need to decide what party is at fault whenever a driverless car is involved in an accident. Handling legal autonomous driving issues in the court system might be tricky. Determining how to apportion blame might be difficult. The law will need to determine if the accident was caused by software, defective parts, or in the way that hardware and software interact together in unforeseen ways.

While autonomous driving will make life easier, it will certainly raise specific liability concerns. Fortunately, products liability law has been well established for decades. Victims of driverless vehicle accidents will have various liability theories to choose from when seeking recovery for their injuries and damages.