The Future of Driving is Driverless

Accidents and Injuries

A Tesla Model S

Ten years ago, I was involved in a reasonably serious crash. Late one night, on the way back from my friend’s house, I crashed into a tree at between 30 and 40 miles per hour. The car I was driving was totalled, but I was incredibly lucky to walk away from the crash with some bruising to my chest and a bad headache from the airbag.

The crash happened shortly after I passed my driving test. I was driving home from a friend’s house using my GPS, when it took me down a route I wasn’t familiar with. I missed an upcoming slight S in the road, and when I felt my front-left wheel lose traction, I went to hit the brakes but I instead hit the accelerator. I sped up, and went straight into the tree.

As the impact of what had happened dawned on me, I started to cry as I phones my parents to explain that I’d totalled the car they’d bought me just a few weeks ago. And then, once they reminded me, I called the emergency services. The police and ambulance were with me shortly after, where I was breathalysed and checked over before being taken to hospital.

I hadn’t been drinking. And I wasn’t too badly injured. But, the car was wrecked, my confidence in driving was hit, and I became very wary of my physical and mental condition when driving.

What does this have to do with autonomous vehicles (sometimes called Self-Driving Cars, Driverless Cars, or AV)? Well, that’s a good question.

The Upside of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to rid the world of such accidents as what happened to me those ten long years ago. And I believe it is my experience in that crash that makes me so optimistic about the potential for AVs both now and in the future.

You see, an autonomous vehicle can’t be tired, like I probably was as I was driving home late that night. An AV doesn’t have unfamiliar roads, because it has information on every road loaded into its memory. An AV can’t accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake, because it doesn’t have physical pedals to work with.

If any one of those factors had been different that night, I likely wouldn’t have had my crash. And an autonomous vehicle would have been able to negate all of them.

It also wouldn’t be able to get drunk. Or distracted. Or be looking in the wrong direction. Or be on the phone.

It can see the world around it through a series of cameras pointing in every direction. RADAR and LIDAR technologies help it know exactly where the traffic and other obstacles are and how quickly they’re approaching. It’s powerful CPU and software let it react quicker than a human ever could. And that’s before we look at other potential technologies such as inter-vehicle communication.

As the technologies develop and come together, and as we reach Level 4 Autonomy on commercially-viable vehicles, we’ll see major disruption in how the car and other vehicles are seen. And, inevitably, we’ll see a great reduction in the number of accidents and deaths on the road.