Safer Roads and Cleaner Air with Autonomous Fleets

Don’t fear self-driving vehicles; they’re safer and better for the air we breathe.

Every technological leap comes with a healthy dose of fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown.

It’s no different in the case of autonomous vehicles. I’ve heard a lot about the fears surrounding them: we fear they will eliminate jobs; some believe traffic jams will actually increase; and many worry that ‘driverless’ means dangerous.

Everyone has the right to be afraid but when it comes to innovation, I think we ought to be excited about the possibilities.

It’s also important to look at the facts.

About 1.25 million people are killed in road crashes every year around the world, according to the United Nations. The number one cause of those crashes? Distracted driving. The most common distractions include talking on the phone, texting, eating, reading, grooming, and talking with passengers.

Meanwhile, Google’s 53 self-driving vehicles hit the road in 2009 and have been involved in just 17 crashes to date — none of which were the self-driving vehicle’s fault until an accident this past February involving a bus.

The incident highlighted the imperfections of the current self-driving technology, but Google’s otherwise spotless record shows us the great potential yet to be achieved in this space. By eliminating human error and the distraction factor, autonomous vehicles can make our roads a whole lot safer. Even the United States Department of Transportation has said, that with stringent safety assessments, “automated vehicles hold enormous potential benefits for safety, mobility and sustainability.”

Less traffic, lower carbon

The benefits of driverless cars are even bigger when we consider how businesses will adopt the technology.

Daimler, one of the car manufacturers investing in self-driving trucks, predicts fuel economy can improve by about 5%, and Uber’s self-driving truck company, Otto, believes it can achieve higher fuel efficiency as demonstrated with its recent shipment of 5,000 cans of Budweiser.

I’m especially excited about the advent of autonomous fleets in the last-mile logistics space. I’m talking about autonomous commercial delivery fleets that zip around town circulating goods and services.

There’s so much potential in the last-mile because it’s the most expensive chunk of the supply chain — in some cases amounting up to 75% of total delivery costs. By leveraging autonomous vehicles, we’ll make the last mile exponentially more efficient — partly due to the fact that machines will listen to the instructions of routing algorithms.

Machines will listen to algorithms

Which brings me to my next point — machines will do what they’re told.

One of the biggest challenges we face every day is convincing human beings to change their bad habits. In the case of last-mile logistics, it’s asking drivers to follow optimized routes, instead of going with the routes they think are best. Even companies that leverage routing software still have little to no control over whether or not their drivers are actually following the routes planned out for them. That’s one of the reasons why telematics are a great solution to help monitor and improve safe driving behaviour and fuel efficiency.

And there’s more: autonomous vehicles have the ability to gather data on lane markings, traffic patterns, and peripheral vehicles. They won’t stick to bad habits and old ways, and they don’t fear change. As business fleets adopt self-driving technology, we anticipate a huge reduction in road accidents, a greater efficiency in traffic flow, less congestion and lower carbon emissions.

Technological leaps are scary, but we need to embrace the possibility of a greener, safer future on our roads.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing news about innovative companies that are running some really cool experiments with self-driving vehicles. Stay tuned and follow our blog to keep up!

Marc Kuo is Founder and CEO of Routific.

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