Driverless Vehicles Hit Road Blocks

Image of Driverless CarDriverless vehicles are making headlines more often recently due to the fact that the technology is developing at a rapid pace. There are now a number of companies investing in driverless vehicle technology, with the forerunner in many people’s eyes being Google. However, even though driverless cars are becoming more of a reality, there are some issues that may prevent them from hitting our roads any time soon.

In a recent report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, it has been claimed that driverless cars may never be as safe as hoped. Previously it has been claimed that driverless vehicles will improve passenger safety due to the fact that if everyone had one there would be less accidents on the roads. Driverless vehicles will have the ability to stick to speed limits, avoid collisions and calculate the safest routes to destinations, and if everyone had one there would be no room for human error.

However, Sivak and Schoettle claim that driverless vehicles will not be able to stop accidents caused by other humans and road users. They gave an example of a drunk pedestrian walking out in front of a driverless vehicle only leaving a “very short” gap. In this instance it wouldn’t matter whether a human or a computer applied the brakes, but the ability of the brakes to stop the vehicle before hitting the pedestrian. Either way the result would be the same, meaning driverless vehicles would not be able to prevent such accidents.

Another issue that the research highlighted is the amount of technology that would be installed in a driverless vehicle – technology which would be susceptible to issues or could potentially even fail completely. They claim that many accidents these days are caused by components of a vehicle failing, and as driverless vehicles would have even more components there would be a higher chance of an accident occurring.

They said: “In many current situations, interacting drivers of conventional vehicles make eye contact and proceed according to the feedback received from other drivers. Such feedback would be absent in interactions with self-driving vehicles. The expectation of zero fatalities with self-driving vehicles is not realistic. It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver. During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the road, safety might actually worsen, at least for the conventional vehicles.”

In order to carry out research into driverless technology the University of Michigan has created its very own “mini-city” named M City which is 32-acres and includes roundabouts, bus stops and simulated pedestrians. Discussing M City, Peter Sweatman, director of the university’s Mobility Transformation Center, said: “Connected and automated vehicle technology will usher in a revolution in the mobility of people and goods comparable to that sparked by the introduction of the automobile a century ago. M City will allow us to rigorously test new approaches in a safe, controlled and realistic environment before we implement them on actual streets.”

Concerns over the safety of driverless technology has led to the UK government drafting up new rules such as passengers having to be ready to take the wheel at all times and also wear seatbelts. This year the UK will see its first ever driverless vehicle tests, which is why Graham Parkhurst, head of one of the four official pilot projects, has been working hard to create new legislation concerning driverless vehicles. He said: “It is like the laws in the infancy of motoring when a man had to walk in front of a motor vehicle waving a red flag.”

Other legislation concerning driverless cars will include rules surrounding speeding fines, accidents, and car insurance. When driverless car technology was first created many people were concerned over how they would work in reality – details which the UK government are now starting to iron out.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson / CC BY-SA 2.0

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