Autonomous vehicles (a.k.a. driver-less vehicles) may have a long road ahead of them before they become commonplace around the world, but that hasn’t stopped the tech industry from pushing the technology forward. Companies like Google continue to promote the potential benefits that driver-less vehicles can bring, and they’ve even developed a number of working prototypes that are already roaming the roads in live traffic. While owning a car that can drive itself offers a number of obvious conveniences, there’s still an understandable fear that things could go wrong given the right set of circumstances. Drivers often rely on their instincts in order to navigate roads safely and without incident, and some people have a general uneasiness about placing their safety (and their lives) completely in the hands of a computing system, no matter how sophisticated it might be. Google in particular understands the safety challenges that automated vehicles face, especially after one of their cars may have been at least partially at fault in a recent traffic incident.
It’s the removal of this “human element” that worries organizations like The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The administration is fairly bullish on a driver-less future, but they’ve outlined a number of regulatory challenges that the associated technology faces. In particular, the organization has serious concerns about automated vehicles that don’t contain brake pedals or steering wheels, essentially giving full autonomy to the vehicle’s navigation system. As it stands right now, companies who perform trial runs on their automated cars often include human drivers that can intervene in the event that something goes wrong. Google does this for many of their automated trials, with the human driver working as a fail-safe for the vehicle’s autonomous system. The complete removal of that “human element” is a major regulatory hurdle, and it’s probably the biggest roadblock (again, no pun intended) that driver-less technology has to clear before it can obtain mass adoption.
Despite the various safety concerns, companies are moving forward to make automated transportation a reality, and the United States government is doing their part to make driver safety a priority. The NHTSA will host a couple of key public meetings this spring, and the safety of automated vehicles will be a focal point of discussion. During the meetings, the organization hopes to gather valuable input about how to make the driver-less experience safer for everyone on the roads. The upshot is to create better safety guidelines and regulations for car manufacturers in their continued development of the technology.