By: Allan M. Siegel
At the end of May, Google announced that it is now building fully autonomous cars. Previously Google used existing cars, such as the Prius, and incorporated radar and laser sensors to create a self-driving vehicle. These test vehicles required human intervention to be fully operational. Now, Google has created a fully autonomous small electric car, which fits two passengers. This prototype does not have a steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, and it requires no human intervention beyond the stop and go button. The front of the vehicle is made of 2 feet of foam and the windshield is made of plastic. These changes result in a safer and more efficient vehicle. Google hopes to have these vehicles on the road within the next few years, with widespread use by 2025. In fact, California and Nevada have already passed legislation allowing for self-driving cars on their roadways.
The safety metrics on these vehicles are expected to quickly surpass those of a human driver. These prototypes have cameras which have eliminated all blind spots, and they have omnidirectional sensors which can detect objects up to two football fields away. These features will allow for smooth navigation through busy streets and complicated intersections. Additionally, when you remove the human element, you also remove the risk for human error.
Repeated studies have shown that over 90% of all collisions are due to human error. Industry experts believe that a fully autonomous car will lead to a dramatic reduction in the overall number of car accidents. Car insurance prices are also expected to decrease dramatically, as vehicle collisions will be the fault of manufactures rather than human drivers. Further, the camera and sensor recordings will provide detailed evidence to show the exact and undisputed cause of every accident. Some experts believe that eventually insurance may only be needed to cover damage from snow, storms, or falling trees. Vehicle repair costs, however, are expected to increase as the high-tech cameras and sensors equipped on these vehicles are delicate and expensive. Ultimately, the greatest advantage, in the eyes of many, is the expected near absolute reduction in commuter stress. Google co-founder Sergey Brin said, "Ten seconds after getting in I was doing my email. I had forgotten I was there. It ultimately reminded me of catching a chairlift."
These cars have the potential to significantly decrease the personal injuries and deaths caused by negligence on our roadways. Just think, there would be no more rear-end collision because of drivers being distracted on the roadways, or people texting when driving. It sounds like on its face that could significantly decrease personal injury litigation. Here in the Washington, D.C. and the Washington DC metropolitan area, with all the traffic, and traffic accidents we have that would be a welcome change. However, automated cars may bring other types of lawsuits. If the car malfunctions, there would be product liability lawsuits, claiming that the car was defective. We will all have to wait to see how this develops.