Autonomous Car Industry is Finally Making Strides—with Government at its Side

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The idea of a driverless car was once thought to be unsafe. Gradually, through a lot of hard work, the automotive industry has brought the government, and the public, around to its way of thinking.

In the near-future, a car which can drive itself is a definite possibility. Now that the people who will buy these vehicles are starting to get on board with the concept, how is the government at local and national levels dealing with the driverless car industry?

Nationally, the United States Government has been watching the automaker’s performance and safety tests as well as initiating some of their own. In a recent move in Philadelphia, the city government has permitted the testing of Uber Driverless cars by the rideshare giant. By using guidelines set by federal regulators, the city was able to ensure a safe framework of controls, checks, and balances were in place before Uber’s driverless fleet hit the streets of Philadelphia.

The new federal regulations were released to automakers and municipalities in September and address the safety issues raised by the commercial car makers such as Tesla, Google, and Uber. Recent semi-autonomous car crashes were studied and safeguards incorporated into the new regulations.

The government, on a federal level, has seen the data and believe the self-driving car to be safer in addition to helping boost personal productivity and save lives, Their guidelines focus on four main aspects of safety with driverless cars. For instance, from the Department of Transportation came a 15 point safety standard for the design and development of the vehicles which includes how driverless cars should behave if the technology in them fails. Other matters such as digital security and passenger privacy, and of course the big one: how driverless car passengers are protected during a crash.

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A section was devoted to the communication an autonomous car will need to initiate between passengers and other driverless cars on the road. At the federal level, the government has left it open to individual states to begin designing what can become a universal standard for their own safety requirements with autonomous cars. Uber has also begun allowing driverless cars to be ordered by certain customers in Pittsburgh, Google is testing its driverless cars in Mountain View California, and other manufacturers such as Toyota, are beginning to see how certain models like the Toyota Corolla LE perform autonomously.

Meanwhile, on a more local level, cities are considering driverless technology for public transportation and getting around in congested areas. Using the federal guidelines, cities and states are encouraged to see how or if driverless vehicles may be a fit for them. It has been estimated that most of the 40,000 traffic-related deaths in 2015 could have been avoided by driverless cars. Other benefits include providing transportation which is quicker, cleaner than diesel or natural gas-fuelled buses, and user-friendly for children, the elderly, and non-drivers.

Fortunately for the transportation industry and automotive manufacturers, several cities are very eager to implement driverless vehicle testing in their home areas. For instance, in San Francisco Bay, Google and its driverless vehicles have been in use for several years. Phoenix, Arizona is a recent test city, as is Austin, Texas and Kirkland, Washington. Boston is launching a program which will last one year and has partnered with the World Economic Forum to study safety, transportation access, and sustainability.

Municipal governments realize that those who are part of the early testing of driverless cars will have the most to benefit as they become mainstream. As for exactly what the future looks like for driverless cars and their humans, a few theories have risen up. For instance, in one scenario driverless cars don’t replace anything except functioning as smarter and safer vehicles for the same demographic which currently has an automobile. This could leave a significant gap in a city’s ability to provide roads, parking spaces, and more with even more vehicles on the road.

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Another theory of how cars of the future will look encapsulates a new market for autonomous vehicles – their use by those who would otherwise take the bus or trains. In this scenario, driverless cars might take the place of public transportation. If driverless vehicles could form convoys to convey passengers from one part of town to another, they could move more efficiently and presumably quicker than current methods of getting from point A to point B.

Rick Delgado is a business and technology consultant and writer based in Utah.

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