The self-driving car has long been a concept in many science fiction movies, but with several states allowing testing of the new technology on everyday roads, autonomous cars may quickly become technology of today rather than tomorrow.
The idea behind a self-driving car is that a computer can work far more effectively than a human being because it is not susceptible to distraction or other human error.
In most instances, self-driving cars are not completely autonomous. Many have sensors that can detect what is around them and can manage driving on their own, but they also contain steering wheels in case a driver must intervene.
Google, however, has designed a car that lacks any pedals or steering wheels. Cars like these tend to have only a start button and emergency shut off button for the passenger to control.
Several companies have already jumped on the technology. From tech company Google to ride-sharing service Uber, many have invested in creating their own self-driving cars and sending them out onto the streets for testing.
Uber recently started testing its self-driving car model, sending out 100 modified Volvo XC90 SUV cars on the streets of Pittsburgh. The city has been working with Uber since 2015 by leasing them land to test out their cars.
The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, has been extremely welcoming to Uber, working to defend the company when anti-ridesharing legislature came up in 2014.
Google has been developing its self-driving model since 2009 and has tested it in California, Texas, Washington, and Arizona. Recently, California has allowed for there to be no driver within the car as long as there is two-way communication between someone in the car and someone outside the car. As long as the vehicle passes a 15-step safety assessment issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it won’t need to have a human driver during testing. Most states with these cars, however, require a person to be behind the wheel in case of emergencies.
In Pittsburgh, the use of self-driving cars was quietly integrated into the city without a public demonstration of the vehicles and without any hint as to where the vehicles will be traveling. Many citizens feel as though they have been forced into accepting these vehicles.
Many states have embraced the use of regulated self driving cars on their streets and have been hit with a mixed response from citizens.
The average American remains wary of the idea of a completely self driving car. Kelley Blue Book, a vehicle valuation and automotive research company, surveyed Americans to see what they thought about self-driving cars. The findings state that 80 percent of Americans felt they should “always have the option to drive themselves” and 62 percent surveyed felt they would not live to see self-driving cars take over the road.
The wariness surrounding these cars circles mostly around the fear of not being able to gain control during an emergency. In June 2016, a driver of a Tesla Model S electric car was killed in an accident as the car was in self-driving mode: The vehicle’s sensor was unable to distinguish the white of a tractor trailer from the brightness of the sky and did not activate its breaks. A non-fatal crash also occurred with a Google car in Sept. 2016, suspected to be caused by a non-self driving car crashing into the Google car.
Self-driving cars remain in the testing stages around the country, and the Obama Administration has already voiced its support for self-driving cars while promising increased safety oversight. The United States Department of Transportation promised to pull any cars they deemed unsafe and to set guidelines for both states and manufacturers, saying states should have uniform policies for driverless cars and the introduction to a 15-point safety assessment.
Safety remains one of the main points of concern for both proponents and opponents of self-driving cars. As these vehicles become more commonplace and commercial, safety measures will be furthered to ensure they fulfill their original purpose: To be even more reliable than manned cars.
By Nathalie Mairena