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Driverless Cars: Why You Could be Napping on the Way to Work Within the Next 5 Years

Posted on: July 14, 2015 by renegade

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With fully autonomous cars set to hit the road within the next 5 years, it is time to start talking about the what we can gain from this revolutionary disruptive technology. Luckily, we will have plenty of time to chat while our robot chauffeur takes us to a pre-programmed destination.

With no real legal structure in place to deal with autonomous on non-autonomous collisions, the insurance and liability implications of driverless cars, and a whole host of other issues could come into focus as the technology becomes more commonplace.

Driverless cars are coming fast, and if we decide we want them on our roads we have to start thinking about how we are going to address these issues so they can hit the ground full throttle.
So first, let me paint a picture.

A Vision of the Future

Imagine the design of new cars when they don’t have to be made with the driver in mind. Passengers could sit facing each other akin to train travel, or even lie down. Windows would become an aesthetic feature rather than an absolute necessity, and the angry morning commuters stuck in traffic are replaced by hundreds catching forty winks on their way to work.

The streets would become full of robot taxi services, presumably ordered with a pre-programmed destination with our smartphones similar to how Uber currently operates.

This feels like it is straight out of the Jetsons, but it may surprise you to learn this could easily happen within our lifetimes. So let’s stop talking in hypothetical sci-fi futures and get down to the facts and figures.

Safety First

The potential benefits to driver safety are undeniable. Of the 1.2 million people worldwide that die every year in traffic incidents over 90% are caused by driver error. From the guy that cut you off yesterday, to the driver who insists on merging at the last second, there probably isn’t a single person reading this who doesn’t have a list of drivers they want off the roads. But would you be happy if the only way to get them out from behind the wheel involved you giving up control too?

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk prophesied last month that one day driving a car yourself could be illegal due to the huge safety risks compared to riding in a car driven by software. While this sounds great from a ‘lifesaver’ perspective, stopping us driving for our own safety could take away the livelihood petrolheads the world over.

The crash rate of driverless cars could be as low as 10% of accidents involving human drivers. According to a couple of quick sums that is just over 100,000 deaths down from over a million, – is that a fair price to pay for losing our freedom on the road?

So How Close are we?

We don’t need to worry about letting go of the steering wheel just yet. There are five levels of automation for driverless cars. Levels range from Levels 1 & 2 cover lane-departure assist and anti-lock breaks. Level 5 is where driving the car yourself would not even be an option – full automation.

Right now, some cutting edge, road legal cars are at Level 2, but the development period from Level 2 to Level 5 could be quite lengthy as the technology gets exponentially more complicated..

One of the cars featuring this technology is the Cadillac CT6, which is coming to Australia in the near future. Cadillac have announced that that their new CT6 will include adaptive cruise control (a Level 2 feature), and possibly Super Cruise technology, which allows drivers to go hands-free while driving in stop-start traffic.

For the more eco-conscious, Tesla have also announced plans to introduce automated steering within the next three months.

But will Australia be Ready for Driverless Cars?

There is currently no real legislation in place that deals with driverless cars in Australia, but this could change any day now. The South Australian government has already told us they want to pave the way for automated vehicles to arrive on our roads by the end of the year. This is a great first step that will no doubt spread to the rest of the country as the technology blossoms.

It’s not just our legal infrastructure that needs to be prepared for these new vehicles though. It is predicted that the cost of updating the road network nationwide to account for driverless cars could cost between $8 and $10 billion.

The good news is the chief engineer of Honda’s R&D Center, Toshio Yokoyama, revealed recently that in the US traffic deaths and injuries lost $78 billion of productivity annually. The hope is that this number will shoot down as driverless cars prevent most of these deaths. So if these American numbers are reflected here in Australia, billions could be retained by the economy, on top of the priceless number of lives saved. I can’t think of a better example of a ‘win/win’ scenario!

So, are driverless cars the time and lifesavers they are held up to be or are they just another way we are becoming over-reliant on technology? For now, it seems like both, but either way there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to catch some extra sleep on the way to work in the morning.

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