When cars were invented, horses were replaced by engines; the saddles have been replaced by seats; and the reins were replaced by a steering wheel and pedals. There were no seat belts, safety bumpers, anti-lock brakes or other safety equipment. Windshields were optional. The Model T had a top speed of 40 to 45 miles per hour, which considering the lack of safety equipment was quite fast.
It was over 100 years ago. Technology has advanced over the years, from seat belts to safety bumpers, anti-lock brakes, airbags and a host of other safety features. More recent innovations include forward collision warning and lane change assist, among others. Even though today’s vehicles have so many safety features, there are still more than 38,000 vehicle-related deaths on American roads each year. The number of injuries requiring medical attention is approximately 4.8 million.
The cause of most accidents is human error; Distracted driving, speeding, drink-driving and reckless driving are the four main causes of accidents. If we could eliminate these and other driver-related factors, the number of accidents would drop significantly. The question is how to improve driving skills or, better yet, take the driver out of the equation.
Enter Autonomous Vehicles – vehicles capable of maneuvering through the streets without any input from a human driver. Manufacturers have been working on the concept for several years. In 2017, Volvo set a goal that no one would be killed or seriously injured in one of its vehicles by 2020. Nissan promised ten new self-driving vehicles over the next four years, and Elon Musk predicted that in a year or two, you might be able to bring a Tesla to the other side of the country. Other manufacturers have made similar predictions, and many have tested various technologies to make fully autonomous vehicles a reality. But we’re not there yet, even though Tesla is touting its Full Self-Driving features.
Defining autonomous vehicles
What determines if a vehicle is considered autonomous? First, a scale of 0 to 5 is used to indicate a vehicle’s ability to be driven with less attention or full human interaction; 0 being the driver performing all driving and 5 being the vehicle performing all driving tasks autonomously without any human intervention. Between levels 0 and 5, there may be different levels of technology that assist with tasks and warn the driver of certain hazards, but the driver must always be engaged at some level. For example, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, blind spot warnings and lane centering all provide the driver with useful information, but the driver must remain in control.
Level 0 has no assist functions that would affect vehicle handling. Technically, emergency braking systems do not drive the vehicle. Therefore, while they may be present, they are not considered driving technology.
Level 1 has a single automated driver assistance function, such as cruise control. Adaptive cruise control allows the vehicle to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, but the driver controls steering and braking.
Level 2 automation is considered partial driving automation, where the vehicle can control steering, acceleration, and deceleration. Tesla’s Autopilot and Cadillac’s Super Cruise are considered Level 2 autonomy.
Level 3 is an advanced level and is able to sense environmental situations and make decisions, such as detecting and accelerating past a slow moving vehicle. However, the driver must be prepared to take over the system at any time.
Tier 4 vehicles have the ability to drive and monitor the environment above Tier 3 capabilities, and are generally restricted to particular areas of operation, such as those where the speed limit does not exceed 30 mph . Level 4 tech is good for carpooling and cargo delivery.
Level 5 is completely autonomous. The vehicle requires no human intervention and can operate without a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. These vehicles are not limited by distance or area and can go anywhere other vehicles can.
Despite Tesla’s advertising of full self-driving capabilities, the vehicles are still considered Level 2 autonomous. There are no fully autonomous vehicles available to the public for sale. However, some fully autonomous services are provided in a few test areas.
Waymo One is a ride-sharing service operating in select areas of Phoenix. Similar to Uber or Lyft, the passenger calls a vehicle using the Waymo One app to order a vehicle. The rider can adjust the trip and add up to five different stops along the way. A runner can go to the grocery store and then go to the dry cleaners, for example. The service is fully autonomous, with no safety driver in the front seat. The vehicles are restricted to certain areas and are equipped with several redundant security systems in case of emergency. There are plans to expand the service to San Francisco, but currently it is still in the testing phase.
Commercial vehicles are also autonomous
Autonomous technology doesn’t just apply to passenger vehicles. With the shortage of truckers, having autonomous technology would allow goods to be moved across the country around the clock. Autonomous trucks could keep moving without needing to stop for drivers to rest. There are of course other considerations, such as refueling vehicles and loading and unloading goods. While much of the technology is the same, the size of the vehicle and the logistics of turning and navigating traffic bring a different element to the task at hand. Maneuvering an 18-wheeler is different from maneuvering a four-door sedan.
However, progress is being made, as evidenced last December when a tractor-trailer conducted an 80-mile freight route test in Arizona with no humans on board and no intervention using TuSimple technology. A lead vehicle scouted the road for unexpected obstacles about five miles ahead of the semi-autonomous, and a trailing vehicle followed about half a mile behind the truck ready to intervene if necessary, along with several support vehicles. unmarked police. TuSimple said freeway lane changes, stoplights, and on and off ramps were semi-successful while “interacting naturally with other motorists.”
Technology will continue to advance, making more and more safety features available in vehicles that will allow drivers to let the car perform certain functions. This is problematic, and studies have shown that once people get used to the presence of assistive technology, they rely on it too much and don’t pay close attention to driving. If they suddenly have to take over the vehicle, they are not prepared.
Fully autonomous vehicles are still a long way off, and there’s an awful lot of complicated technology needed before vehicles can drive entirely on their own in any location without supervision or intervention from a human driver.
Christine G. Barlow, CPCU, ([email protected]) is the editor of FC&S Expert Coverage Interpretation, the authority on insurance coverage interpretation and analysis for the P&C industry.