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Autonomous vehicles have been touted as the future of transportation for quite some time, and rightfully so. One of the main reasons why major companies started working on autonomous vehicles in the first place was to improve road safety, and the best way to do that is to eliminate the human element from the equation.
Road accidents claim thousands of lives each year. While some tend to blame slippery roads, potholes, or bad weather, human error is one of the primary causes of fatal car accidents. In fact, the US National Center for Statistics and Analysis estimates that human error is responsible for 94 per cent of traffic fatalities in the United States, and it is widely believed that autonomous vehicles would be able to prevent most, if not all of them.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), even some of the most basic driver-assistance features, such as lane departure warning, could reduce the fatal crash rate by as much as 86 per cent. Over the years, competition in the self-driving arena has intensified, with a number of new startups, ride-hailing companies, and even some tech giants entering the field, aiming to get a piece of the pie for themselves. At the same time, it seems that almost every major car manufacturer is also looking to build a self-driving car of their own. In fact, according to a recent report published by Allied Market Research, the value of the global autonomous vehicle market is expected to reach $557 billion by 2026. However, despite all the hype, a truly autonomous vehicle capable of handling every driving task entirely on its own is yet to materialise. Why is that?
The state of self-driving vehicles
In a 2018 interview, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, said that Tesla could have a fully self-driving car on the road by 2019. This turned out to be easier said than done, as 2019 is already here, and there’s no indication that Musk’s claim will actually come true. In fact, none of the car manufacturers seem to be close to putting a fully self-driving car on the road.
The IIHS recently conducted a comprehensive test of advanced driver-assistance systems, with features such as adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping, in cars from some of the leading manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, and Tesla. The test evaluated the systems’ performance in typical driving situations, such as approaching stationary vehicles and negotiating hills and curves, and the results were a bit underwhelming. While none of the cars actually crashed during the test, they all made a number of mistakes, ranging from overly cautious braking to crossing the lane, leading the IIHS to conclude that the technology is still not ready to replace human drivers. “None of these vehicles is capable of driving safely on its own,” says David Zuby, IIHS’ chief research officer. “A production autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime isn’t available at your local car dealer and won’t be for quite some time. We aren’t there yet.”