Affects of Driver less cars on road safety

Saturday 12th October, 2013 at 11:10 COMMENTS (0)

Ford can now park cars in spaces so tight you couldn't get out of the door even if you could get the car in the space. 

The Fully Assisted Parking Aid for backing into perpendicular and angled parking spaces was demonstrated this week in Belgium, along with Obstacle Avoidance technology that deals with slow cars and slower pedestrians in front of you, by braking or steering around them. 

A car that can drive itself may sound like science fiction, but car manufacturers and Google hope to offer this technology to consumers as early as 2014, raising hopes for physically-disabled drivers, but also concerns about safety and legal responsibility. 

Essentially, a driver can hop out, and let the car park itself.  The feature will also explore returning a car to its driver.  This would be handy if you were coming out of a shop, and the car would essentially come pick you up, interacting with other cars and pedestrians in the area. 

Perhaps most radically, personal cars could potentially be used like taxis, dropping their owners off at a location, driving home, and then picking them up again when called. 

What might these driverless cars mean for the future?

Obstacle Avoidance

Technology unveiled by Ford is Obstacle Avoidance.  Sensors direct the steering and brakes to avoid hitting cars and people that are stopped or slowed in the lane ahead. 

Obstacle Avoidance uses multiple sensors: three radar units, ultrasonic sensors, and a camera to scan as far out as 660 feet (200 meters, or three football fields). 

The system first warns the driver with a chime (if there's time) and if there's no response from the driver, it assumes control momentarily, scans the roadway for gaps to the left or right of the hazard, and either brakes or moves the car to the side.  Ford says a third of drivers who sense a rear-end collision coming don't take evasive action. 

Ford already has some other forms of active safety including Active City Stop to scan the road and prevent low-speed collisions.  Ford also has Lane Keeping Aid (lane departure warning or lane keep assist) to steer the car back into lane if the driver drifts off. 

Driverless cars could have wide-reaching effects.  Fewer accidents could mean lower insurance rates for all drivers, and smoother driving could save gas. 

Are we missing the point?

Without good observation the information needed to make safe decisions whilst driving is seriously impaired. 

There's a worry then that people's driving skills will rapidly deteriorate as they come to rely on their robo-chauffeurs. 

However, these car manufacturers, along with Google, have assured the public that driverless cars will make our commutes safer, more efficient and more productive.  They point out that machines don't drink and drive or doze off at the wheel. 

Some lingering concerns

When Google announced its driverless car project in October 2010 it said, "One of the big problems we're working on today is car safety and efficiency.  Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use."

These new features can figure out if a parking space is large enough, keep a safe distance from other cars on the road and brake to avoid a collision at city speeds. 

However, critics are still concerned about how computer error may endanger lives on the road, particularly at high-speeds.  Currently, the car's sensors are unable to cope with poor weather conditions like heavy rain and snow-covered streets. 

Still, many aspects of driving depend on small gestures and signals.  Would a driverless car know to stop or slow down for roads works? Other situations like giving priority or waiting one's turn at a crossroads appear to be issues of judgment that would be hard to perform without a human brain. 

As a consequence, carmakers won't immediately deliver robo-taxis.  The first generation of self-driving cars are more likely to be capable co-pilots that pass driving duties back to a human when complex situations arise, much as planes' autopilot systems ask pilots for help in emergencies. 

Will the driver then be able to opt back into the driving task competently, indeed will they be ready and able enough?

The question of legal responsibility also remains a sticky issue.  If one of these vehicles collides with another, or with a human-driven car, whose insurance pays the claim?

If a police officer pulls over a driverless car, who gets the ticket? Whether or not the cars will be able to react to an officer directing them to pull over is not clear.  Legal structures for insurance traffic violations will have to be changed to account for driverless cars. 

So how long will it be before people won't need a driver's license if most cars on the road will be able to navigate themselves?

Self Parking Cars

A half-dozen automakers offer semi-automated parallel parking, including Audi, BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volvo, Ford, Kia, and Volkswagen. 
Parallel parking is an ordeal for many drivers, but with parking space limited in big cities, squeezing your car into a tiny space is a vital skill.  It's seldom an easy task, and it can lead to traffic tie-ups, frazzled nerves and dented bumpers. 

Parking a car requires a distinct set of skills: spatial awareness, accuracy and neck flexibility, but most importantly, observational skills. 

Sometimes parking a car in a space is restricted by the driver's skill at parallel parking

A self-parking car can fit into smaller spaces than most drivers can manage on their own.  This makes it easier for people to find parking spaces, and allows the same number of cars to take up fewer spaces. 
When someone parallel parks, they often block a lane of traffic for at least a few seconds.  If they have problems getting into the spot, this can last for several minutes and seriously disrupt traffic. 

However, the self parking car will select a suitable spot, alerts the driver, who then has the option of staying in the car or getting out and using a remote to finish the parking job.  The car then backs itself in to the parking space. 

The car would automatically switch gears, accelerate, steer, and brake.  The driver's function is to keep his or her finger on the button during the manoeuvre. 

But as the momentum for self-driving cars grows, one question is getting little attention:

If people cannot perform this manually by themselves, should they return their driving license?


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