Self-Driving Car Accidents Add Perspective To The Enthusiasm

Recent accidents involving self-driving cars, most notably the first autonomous vehicle fatality, Joshua Brown a Tesla owner who reportedly was watching a movie when he struck a truck crossing an intersection, will not kill the enthusiasm for the technology. But it has put it into some perspective.

In the technology industry it is very common to promote a new product way ahead of the curve. Once the key engineering or programming is done, the details come later.

In the car industry where safety demands are paramount, the idea of the self-driving car has been a great vision of the future and a lot of manufacturers … Nissan, Audi, FCA, Volvo … have burnished their images for being technologically advanced by getting on board.

But outspoken autonomous vehicle proponents like Tesla owner Elon Musk have been aggressive predicting the advent of widespread self-driving cars by 2020. If not a setback for the technology, it is a re-setting of expectations.

Realistic Autonomous Vehicle Expectations

First, with the exception of very controlled highway driving and restricted urban areas, it will be 30 years until the technology and logistics exist to allow a driver to safely read a book or watch a movie while behind the wheel. Sailors and aircraft pilots have had autopilot systems for decades and yet the first rule is … “Never leave the helm unattended.”

The human response time from a state of total disengagement, to taking control of a vehicle in an emergency, would make inevitable technical failures very dangerous with likely fatalities.

In addition to the self-driving technology built into new cars, older vehicles will always be a factor, since most autonomous systems are based on wireless car to car communications, which increasingly newer cars have but millions of cars on the roads do not.

Finally tech enthusiasts should not be disappointed because autonomous vehicle technology has been creeping into the cars we drive since the 1980s. Things like anti-lock brakes, all wheel drive, and more recently collision avoidance features like lane departure control, emergency stopping, adaptive cruise control and even park assist, are all over time easing us into a safe autonomous vehicle future.