As an owner of a business that relies heavily on human drivers and their mistakes, I try to pay attention and stay educated to the trends with autonomous vehicles. I often get asked my opinion, about these vehicles, so I thought this might make a great blog article.
With all the hype of self-driving cars hitting the news over the last several years, you’d think this was a new idea. However, this has been a dream of auto manufacturers since shortly after the invention of the automobile, when in 1925 Francis Houdina took a radio controlled car through the streets of Manhattan. Even though we have come a long ways towards making the self-driving car a possibility, there is still no vehicle for sale that is 100% autonomous and legal to use. We are making big advancements though. This is clearly the big technology race of this century. Most new cars now have some driver assistance systems (ADAS) built in. The ADAS have significantly changed the safety of driving, but they are still no substitute for an experienced driver at the wheel.
Self-driving vehicles are right now the darling of the big technology companies and they are being tested all over the world. There is a huge race for the manufacturer who offers the first fully autonomous car. The first company to break into this will have enormous advantages.
What are the Challenges with the Autonomous car?
Besides some very significant safety and technical obstacles, there are some enormous hurdles to overcome with consumer’s acceptance, insurance liability and government regulations.
People Don’t Trust Autonomous Cars
The consumer confidence is one of the leading obstacles to the acceptance of the autonomous car. The closer we get to these cars being on the road, the more consumers seem to want to push back. The 2019 Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study surveyed over 25,000 consumers in 20 different countries about the safety, rules and public sentiment of Self-Driving Cars. The study found that consumers are questioning if autonomous vehicles are safe. The report found that 73% of driver’s would be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, up significantly from 63% the year before.
Also, a report from AAA indicates that consumer trust has gone down. In 2018, ¾ of American drivers reported they would afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, up 10% from an earlier survey. Additionally, 2/3 of consumers reported, that they would actually feel like they would be in danger to share the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or riding a bicycle.
Researchers at the University of Michigan say, that for consumers to accept driver-less vehicles, self-driving tests will need to prove with 80% confidence that autonomous vehicles are 90% percent safer than human drivers. Other studies say that that number is far too low. They expect consumers to want almost perfection from the autonomous car.
In 2015, Google had one of its Lexus self-driving cars involved in the first crash to injure a person during testing. Since then, there has been multiple fatal crash’s linked to the misuse of Autopilot technology. In addition, the first pedestrian fatality resulting from self-driving technology occurred when an autonomous Uber vehicle struck a woman in Tempe, Arizona on March 2018.
As the number of semi-autonomous vehicles on the road grows, the number of collisions increase, as do the articles and news covering these crashes. Sensationalized news coverage is likely to the change and shape consumer confidence. The more of these vehicles that hit the road, the likelihood of accidents will increase and fear will creep up.
Insuring the Autonomous Vehicle
No one seems to have the answers as to who will hold the liability of a self-driving car. There just doesn’t seem to be any common plan to how the manufacturers, insurance companies and consumers will divide the liability for accidents. Insurance companies currently calculate our rates based of the safety of the drivers record and likelihood of being in an accident. That wouldn’t work any longer. If they did it off of the record of the car, clearly some cars would be far more popular and slowing down the advancement of new companies.
The Governments Regulation of the Autonomous Car
Consumers continue to look for the government to regulate the autonomous car. 87 percent of Deloitte’s survey respondents want the government to have heavy oversight over the development and use of self-driving cars.
Defining the proposed rules and regulations of the road are a challenge for the government. Because of the enormity of this, the federal government is still leaning heavily on the states to govern the rules and regulations. The federal approach to shaping policy, so far, provides guidance that prioritizes safety as well as embraces the freedom of Americans to drive their own cars.
Federal safety rules require self-driving cars to have equipment like steering wheels, pedals, and mirrors. Right now, there are approximately 75 safety standards that autonomous automakers must meet. Most of them are written with the assumption that a licensed driver will be in control of the vehicle.
The speed of the advancement of the autonomous vehicle has outpaced the government’s ability to regulate it. I don’t think this will be anything we will see change soon. The mere enormity of the regulations needed to approve these vehicles will slow their entrance to the market.
It appears the size of the obstacles facing the autonomous vehicle like, lack of consumer confidence, the pace of the government regulation and the magnitude of the liability question will continue to hold back the autonomous vehicle for years to come.