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Safety Concerns Delay A Driverless Destiny

In 2016, the clarion call was loud and clear. The future is now. Self-driving cars will take over the highways and byways of New York and all states throughout the nation.

The date was set. 2020 would be the year when drivers also become passengers, albeit alert and aware ones. The prognosticators predicted that the roads would be safer at the dawning of the new decade. They told us to look out for the new technology set to revolutionize transportation as we know it.

Fast forward to one year before the supposed revolution/takeover. “Look out” seems to be an appropriate phrase due to the dangerous and deadly problems self-driving cars have created early in their existence.

Signs of trouble began immediately. An Uber driver in Tempe found it more important to stream “The Voice” than keep his eyes on the road. The autonomous car struck and killed a woman in a crosswalk. Police investigations determined that Vasquez was at fault by not monitoring the road.

While a recent court ruling spared the rideshare company of criminal liability, the negative publicity has not helped this purported revolution. Admittedly, several collisions were stopped due to the technology. However, those accounts are rarely fodder for newspaper headlines and cable channel breaking news stories.

Unlike autonomous trains that operate only on tracks, cars share the roads with other vehicles, people and animals. The setting and terrain can change in a split second. Sudden obstacles inherent in urban settings require split-second reactions to avoid accidents. Crowded streets require more in-depth navigation, as opposed to two-lane highways or interstates.

So far, the artificial intelligence and algorithms that facilitate the continuing education of car technology is failing to keep up.  Lidar devices can create 3D maps of surroundings, yet cannot account for potholes or bad weather. The system itself is also cost-prohibitive, adding $85,000 to the cost of a car.

What the future holds for driverless cars remains uncertain as 2020 looms. However, one certainty is that this revolution will continue to be televised as accidents caused by autonomy occur. Bad publicity for manufacturers could actually serve as a teachable moment for consumers waiting in anticipation.

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