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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Is There a Self-Driving Car in Your Future?

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy wikimedia

Love them or hate them, self-driving cars are coming to a highway near you.  In fact, some of the cars we drive today already come equipped with automated driving assistance that does everything from adjusting a vehicle’s speed, to keeping our vehicle in its lane, to automatically parking a vehicle hands-free. As driving technology continues to progress, drivers will see more and more of the driving task being given over to computer control.  So, if you’ve been losing sleep by worrying about the inevitability of self-driving cars, this week’s blog is for you.

Did you know there are five levels of self-driving vehicle designations? – If your vehicle comes equipped with cruise control, your vehicle is already at level 1 since the vehicle can be preset to automatically maintain a steady speed.  To get to level 2, other tasks such as steering, braking and variable speed control need to be automatically adjusted.  This means if your car has a lane maintain system and/or adaptive cruise, you’re already driving a level 2 self-driving vehicle.  To reach level three, more of the vehicle’s primary functions like hands-free steering, automated lane changing and other driving functions need to be incorporated into the mix.  Many high-end automobiles like Tesla that come equipped with Autopilot, Cadillacs and BMWs equipped with Super Cruise, General Motors cars equipped with GM Cruise, and Hyundai Genesis models equipped with Driving Assist II are already using level 3 automation.  To go beyond this level to levels 4 & 5 means that most or all of the functions of driving need to be given over to onboard automation.  To date the only vehicles on the road that have even come close to level 4 automation are Google, Uber, Apple and Waymo vehicles.

What are the public’s opinions on self-driving cars? – With more than 1,400 level 4 vehicles on the road already, and with big auto makers spending billions to perfect self-driving technology, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of when and not if autonomous driving technology will be standard equipment in all vehicles.  That being said, many drivers are still skeptical of the arrival of self-driving cars.  Recent studies have shown that a little over half (57%) of those familiar with the technology state they’d be willing to ride in an autonomous vehicle.  However, three quarters of today’s drivers stated they’d much rather get behind the wheel than ride in a self-driving car.  The question is whether this knee jerk reaction is simply a case of nostalgia, since 71% of those questioned admitted they’d miss being able to drive.  Or it could have something to do with several well-publicized crashes caused by semi-autonomous vehicles.

How safe are self-driving vehicles? – While most folks tend to focus on the headlines made by self-driving cars that have been involved in accidents, these incidents need to be put into perspective.  To date, there have only been a handful of fatal accidents by self-driving vehicles.  On the other hand, 2018 there were 6,734,000 vehicular accidents in the US, 33,654 of which were fatal.  On top of that, the US Dept. of Transportation reported that 94% of all crashes were the result of human error.  That’s because drivers make mistakes.  They fail to yield the right of way.  Some refuse to use their turn signals.  Many drivers are distracted by things that are unrelated to driving while behind the wheel.  Face it, today’s vehicles are more computer than car.  If your dashboard has a monitor embedded in it, how often do you turn your attention from the road to fiddle with the GPS, change your music selection, or make a phone call?  That’s nothing compared to what happens to your attention when someone other than you is in the vehicle. 

How good are drivers today? – If we dial the calendar back to the year 2010, you’ll find that there were 5,419,000 crashes in the US, which is more than 1.3 million crashes less than those in 2017.  So, it’s clear that drivers aren’t getting better.  They’re getting worse.  Even during the pandemic in 2020when people drove far less than usual, there were still 38,680 fatalities on the road that year.   The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 7.2% increase in fatalities over the previous year.  This included a 5% uptick in passenger fatalities and a 9% increase in fatal accidents involving motorcycles.

How did self-cars fare during the same timespan?   In 2020, autonomousvehicles in California racked up more than 1.8 million miles.  During the course of that time, these vehicles were involved in 38 accidents.  37 of those crashes were caused by human drivers in other vehicles. There were no reported fatalities.  Meanwhile, there are 4 deaths per hour and 285 injuries per hour on the roads in this country every day.  While self-driving technology still has a way to go before we can all have an autonomous vehicle parked in our driveway, it’s clear that self-driving vehicles are far safer.  They don’t text while driving.  They aren’t distracted by  things going on inside the vehicle. They always activate the turn signal before changing lanes.  They never tailgate or experience road rage.

Gradual introduction of self-driving technology. – It amazes many people to learn they’re already being trained to accept self-driving technology.  If your vehicle comes equipped with adaptive cruise control or lane maintain technology, your vehicle is already assisting you with the day-to-day tedium of driving.  As long as you stay alert and don’t look away from traffic or nod off, statistics prove your chances of being involved in an at-fault accident are less than vehicles without these options.  That means you shouldn’t be fretting over the emergence of self-driving technology. You should be wondering how long it’s going to take for all cars on the road to come equipped with the it. 

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing how many drivers don't seem to know the rules of the road.


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