Over the last few years, we’ve been keeping tabs on the development of driverless (self-driving) autonomous vehicles. Click here for earlier post. Experts believe that the paradigm shift to driverless vehicles will have a positive effect in the United States, lowering the number of traffic crashes that are overwhelmingly due to human error. Consequently, researchers believe that driverless cars will reduce the number of lives lost on our roads.
Better or Much Better?
Ironically, many Americans are concerned about the safety of driverless vehicles. Correspondingly, there is conflict about whether to allow self-driving vehicles to travel on the roads now – when they are considered “slightly better” than human drivers – or to wait until the self-driving vehicles are far superior to human drivers – potentially several years from now. Experts argue that waiting for further technological progress delays our ability to make a positive impact – and save thousands of lives that are taken each year on our roads. Their studies indicate that the earlier self-driving vehicles are commonly used on the roads, the quicker these vehicles will “master the art of driving” on our roads.
The “New Wild West” – Arizona
Consequently, this update on self-driving vehicles takes us to Arizona to learn about the “new wild west” that caters to vehicles, large and small, with and without drivers. Arizona, and, in particular, the town of Chandler, Arizona, have welcomed companies developing self-driving vehicles. Distinct from many other towns, the local government has encouraged the testing of different types of driverless vehicles on the roads in Chandler and the surrounding areas. And, unlike another large testing ground in California, Arizona has very few laws that regulate driverless vehicles, making it a great place for companies like Waymo to set up shop. In addition, General Motors, Intel, Uber, and Lyft are also operating and testing self-driving cars on the Arizona roads.
Nevertheless, the downside for the public is that Arizona doesn’t require public companies to release information about self-driving vehicle accidents. Consequently, safety reports from self-driving vehicle companies may be partial, although this may change as new legislation governing the testing and use of driverless cars comes into play.
Waymo is one of the leading companies in the development of self-driving vehicles. Waymo is the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Since October, Waymo has been operating self-driving vehicles on roads around Chandler. In contrast to updates on driverless vehicle technology from a year ago, these vehicles do not have safety drivers behind the wheel. In fact, the humans in the vehicles sit in the back, behind the driver’s seat, rather than at the wheel. This is equivalent to Level 4 autonomy, in which a vehicle is capable of driving with no human behind the wheel. These vehicles rely on powerful sensing devices to detect objects up to 300 meters away, and allows the vehicle system to look over, under and around vehicles.
Currently, Waymo is in partnerships with Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft and Avis. According to recent news articles, Waymo’s next move is a commercial ride service using self-driving cars, where people will use an app, possibly Lyft, to hail a vehicle. For now, Waymo is making headway by using over 100 Chrysler self-driving vehicles to transport select individuals as part of a trial. Plans indicate this will soon ramp up to 600 vehicles.
Insurance Coverage for Driverless Cars
Several months ago, a crash between a self-driving Uber vehicle and another driver resulted in a citation for the driver of the other vehicle. While this accident was resolved quickly, the next big question that is still looming over self-driving cars is who will be responsible if the driverless car is at fault in an accident. While this important insurance issue is being debated, the race to driverless cars is on – and there is no sign of slowing down!
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