Senate Bill 1298 has officially been approved by California Governor Jerry Brown, thus allowing self-driving cars to be used on public roads. The governor stopped by Google to sign this new bill, arriving in a completely driverless car to do so. This new initiative of autonomous vehicles has received strong support from Google co-founder Sergey Brin who regards them as the future of the automotive industry.
The bill, apart from legalizing the usage of such vehicles, outlined the first rules and regulations pertaining to driverless cars operating on the roads and highways of California. At the moment, these cars can be tested on public roads as long as there still is a human operator with a driver’s license behind the wheel so that he could take control of the car should something go wrong.
These autonomous cars will lead to a more futuristic driving experience, but from a practical standpoint, Sergey Brin also expects them to make driving much safer. According to him, the new technology implemented in these vehicles should be better at avoiding accidents than human drivers are. Of course, this initiative raises many new problems relating to automobile insurance, liability in the event of an accident etc. Brin is realistic in his goals and realizes that people completely relying on driverless cars is still years away, but sees this new bill as the first step in the right direction.
Some of the technologies associated with self-driving vehicles have already been present in regular cars for a few years now. Adaptive cruise control, for example, is a system that allows a vehicle to travel at a certain speed while also maintaining the proper distance from the vehicle in front of it. The computer in the car uses radar and sensors in order to determine its position and handles the accelerating and braking.
Other features that increase the safety rating of a car have also been invested in heavily by automotive developers. At the forefront of these new inventions are collision avoidance systems that can use sensors to detect a possible collision and apply the brakes much faster than human reaction speeds would permit. Another useful feature currently implemented in many cars involves alerting the driver should the car stray into opposing lanes and into incoming traffic.
Of course, plenty of these features are still rough around the edges, particularly those that have to do with self-parking. One media demonstration that was supposed to show off the “intelligent parking assist” feature of a new Toyota Prius saw the car back straight into a lamppost with no sign of braking. Such problems, as well as the idea of sitting in a driverless car going at speeds are still making plenty of people uneasy so it is likely to be a while before the concept of self-driving vehicles becomes universally accepted.
Even with this hesitation, there is already evidence that cars with such autonomous features are safer on the roads. The 2010 Volvo XC90 SUV, equipped with Volvo’s City Safety feature that is a frontal collision avoidance system effective at low speeds, has had 27% fewer property damage liability claims compared to other 2009 – 2012 SUVs, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The automobile insurance industry is also praising these new technologies. According to them, four of these new systems are the most important: adaptive headlights, forward collision warning, blind spot detection and lane departure warning. According to industry professionals, have these four safety features installed in a car would reduce the chances of a fatal crash by about 33% and the chances of a injury crash by 20%.