Are autonomous vehicles a driverless reality?

Google's autonomous technology being applied to a Lexus Rx350. (Roman Boed/ Creative Commons)

Google’s autonomous technology being applied to a Lexus Rx350. (Roman Boed/ Creative Commons)

The autonomous vehicle is becoming closer to a reality than one may think. Since 2012, 17 states and Washington D.C. have pushed for legislation to have self-driving automobiles on their roads. Currently California, Nevada, Florida and Washington D.C. have put such laws into motion.

So, what exactly is an autonomous vehicle? It’s a self-driving vehicle that can perform the same normal functions an average daily commuter would, capable of sensing and navigating its surrounding environment.

Several questions arise when discussing autonomous vehicles. Has the industry existed long enough to make laws and regulations? Is the technology matured enough to guarantee the computer functions will operate properly? Who is held responsible if an accident occurs and how will the American public react to this technology?

Google, the leader in the autonomous vehicle technology, was operating its self-driving vehicles in the legal grey area in California until Sept 16. 2014 when new regulations took effect. These regulations include a human driver present behind the wheel at all times, the driver must have knowledge of the technology and pass an autonomous vehicle training course.

Owners of autonomous vehicles must apply for a special permit and license plate.  Should an accident occur, fault will be placed on the company that designed the installed autonomous software.

As the technology matures and gains political support, automakers designing cars aimed toward the driving experience will have to rethink features. These features will attract a new market experience, steering away from performance and power, redirecting their focus toward technological features and comfort amenities similar to that of a private jet.

The public transportation industry will undergo changes when self-driving technology catches up to it.  Taxis, trains and bus management will have to employ operators with proper autonomous technology knowledge and training. This would increase the qualifications and wages for these driving positions, causing many public transportation operators to seek new employment.

This swing in transportation technology is sure to make waves with the American public. There are many traffic situations that will arise in daily commuting that a computer system will never be prepared for. Human error and evasive driving will always be unpredictable and require a human touch at the wheel, making the autonomous vehicle technology as safe as a condom.

Photo used with a CC BY 2.0 license.