7/26/2011 3:22 PM ET|
Driverless cars: Around the corner?
They used to be the stuff of science fiction, but 5 auto companies are now testing prototypes -- so it might not be long before the rubber meets the road.
As carmakers roll the dice on an idea that could revolutionize driving, it's no surprise that folks in Nevada have become the first to join the gamble.
Last month, the Silver State authorized its Department of Transportation to create rules allowing driverless cars to travel Nevada roads. These vehicles take the steering wheel out of the hands of human drivers and turn over control to a combination of artificial intelligence software, sensors and GPS technology.
The concept of a driverless car may sound like science fiction, but it's closer to real-life fact.
At least five auto companies -- Audi, BMW, General Motors, Volkswagen and Volvo -- are testing driverless-vehicle prototypes.
And because this is a truly 21st-century idea, Google has been at the forefront of the effort. The technology giant has developed its own driverless cars that already have traveled thousands of miles in test runs. Google is so fired-up about the concept that it lobbied Nevada to pass the law sanctioning driverless cars, according to a New York Times report.
Most experts say it will be several years before driverless cars take the on-ramp into the real world. But when they do, expect the trend to sweep the nation.
This is one bit of cutting-edge behavior that is unlikely to stay in Vegas.
Car insurance and driverless cars
Supporters say driverless cars will be safer than vehicles driven by humans. Technology will keep the new cars at a safe distance from one another and eliminate common mistakes such as overcorrecting and excessive braking.
As a result, accident rates could fall dramatically. In theory, that should cause car insurance rates to sink in tandem.
But is that how it will play out?
Jean Salvatore, a spokeswoman at the Insurance Information Institute, says that once states allow driverless cars onto roads, "insurance companies are going to look and analyze the risk, and insurance will be made available."
Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, says it's difficult to predict how driverless cars will affect insurance rates. But he says State Farm -- the nation's largest insurer -- is likely to write policies for the cars once they hit the roads. (Compare insurance rates on some 2,000 vehicle models here.)
"We're in the business of helping people to transfer risk to us, helping people take away the possibility of large losses of money," he says. "Our inclination always is to help people with that sort of thing."
Because driverless cars have no track record, the biggest challenge for car insurance companies will be measuring risk and pricing policies accordingly.
In the short term, driverless cars are likely to be rated like any new make and model -- neutrally, or in the middle of all cars "until we have greater information," Luedke says.
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As I age, one of my great concerns is maintaining mobility. the concept of a car that can get me from place to place when I am in my 80s is something that gets me excited. Right now there are too many elderly on the road who just do not have reasonable driving skills due to their age. What a great thing to be able to get around without being a hazard to others on the road. Heck, even now I would love the idea of entering a destination, then lean back and relax while my smart car takes me there. (Long trips in particular)
All those in favor of driverless cars think about this: How much is the freedom to be a ham-fisted imbecile going to cost? What is the average cost of a new car in 2011? Take that and doulbe or triple it and that's the fee at the gate to get in. Now ask yourself how the average, or the below average (earning) individual will be able to afford it. The problem with America and its driving habits is that there are too many people on the road who were never properly taught how to drive. Do any of you really think it would be cheaper to transition to driverless cars than it would be to mandate tougher driver education programs? If we took the approach that they have in Germany our driving woes would almost disappear overnight. In Germany it costs about $2000 and 3 months to get a license - for EVERYONE - regardless of age. Prospective drivers must show that they have completed a comprehensive driving program and then ACTUALLY PROVE IT during the road test. Mind you, its a road test that takes 1 - 2 HOURS not 10 minutes.
Taking the wheel out of the hands of the driver is just another way for people to get away with not being held accountable for their actions. Road rage only exists because everyone is not on the same sheet of music. If everyone on the road knew about common courtesy, lane discipline, and the like it would make for a better world out there on those mean streets.
The lobbyist for the insurance companies won't allow it. Think about it, cars that are so safe, that the law that requires you to have insurance becomes obsolete...
just think of it no more drunk drivers killing someone's loved ones. No more drivers falling asleep behind the wheel! One problem we don't need millions of people losing their jobs as professional drivers.
The phrase "being in control" implies that everyone pays attention. They don't. Far too often, they tailgate, speed, run red lights and in general drive like morons. I understand the need for freedom...... freedom to text while driving, freedom to run over pedestrians and t-bone other drivers because you are doing something besides driving, etc. Frankly, I would be in favor of automated cars. A lot injuries and fatalities would be avoided.
Well it would certainly be nice to have the option to put the car on automatic for those long trips on the freeway. People will always insist on the option to drive manually though. And even if statistics show that these automated systems are 100 times safer than a human driver people will still be reluctant to trust their lives to a computer, they just wont want to give up that control. Of course with current safety features like traction control and ABS they certainly are not giving us a choice in the matter. For example on my 2008 Mini Cooper S if I want the traction control turned off I have to remember to turn it off every time I start the car. The default cannot be set to off. The problem with this is that in some cases it is actually safer to not have traction control, at least in a real wheel drive car, and assuming a skilled driver is behind the wheel. I remember one case in particular when the car next to me tried to go straight when he is only allowed to turn left and he came within inches of slamming into the side of my Mazda as I turned left next to him. The only way to avoid a collision was to purposely cause the rear end of my car to fishtail away from his oncoming bumper which gave me the extra time need to get ahead of him and out of the way. If that car had had traction control it would not have allowed me to do this maneuver and my car would have been badly damaged. Of course these kinds of maneuvers can only be done with powerful real wheel drive cars. In front wheel drive cars like the Mini its probably just as well to leave the traction control on but I still want to have the option. The problem is auto makers makes these decisions based on the skill level of the average driver and the average driver is barely competent enough to keep the car in his own lane. If anything unexpected happens he’s totally unprepared for it. For instance if I were to drive around all day randomly slamming on my brakes for no reason in heavy traffic or pulling out in front of people at the last possible second I would get hit 99 percent of the time. If people did the same thing to me however, or to a computer-controlled car, an accident would be avoided 99 percent of the time. There is no doubt that automated self-driving cars will save hundreds of thousands of lives if we can give up our control to a computer. And it’s certainly easier than training every driver in the country to be a professional racecar driver or defensive driver.
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