Monday, February 12th, 2018
Self-driving cars expected to be coming down the road
By Tom Stankard
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicts all new vehicles will be fully self-driving by 2025.
Most drivers find this prospect unsettling, according to a 2016 AAA report. The report stated that 78 percent of Americans would be afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle.
Likewise, more than 50 percent of U.S. motorists reported feeling less safe potentially sharing the road with a driverless vehicle, while 34 percent feel it wouldn't make a difference and only 10 percent said they would feel safer, according to the report.
Ohio Department of Transportation Assistant Director James Barna said he would be comfortable inside a driverless vehicle and feels most drivers will "see the benefit of it and be more comfortable of the idea over time."
Automakers are actively testing autonomous vehicles mostly on dry pavement in areas with warmer climates such as California, Barna noted.
Technology being tested will make these cars capable of communicating with other autonomous vehicles within about 1,000 feet by transmitting signals, Barna said.
ODOT is enhancing autonomous vehicle communication capabilities by installing fiber optic cables along a 35-mile portion of U.S. 33 between Dublin and East Liberty, Barna said. The cables will be able to inform autonomous vehicles of traffic conditions, accidents and weather changes over a Wi-Fi network.
"Having roads ready for self-driving cars will be an asset for Ohio's growing urban areas," he said.
ODOT officials plan to "open up Ohio" by allowing automakers to test their driverless vehicles on this stretch of road, even during treacherous conditions after the $15 million project is completed, Barna said.
"Let's say for instance there's a patch of black ice on the road, it will transmit information via a roadside unit that will carry the signal down the fiber optic cables and warn the vehicle 20 miles down the road there's icy road conditions ahead," Barna said.
Vehicles coming off the assembly line today can come in stage 2 out of five toward full automation, according to NHTSA's report. Cars in stage 2 are equipped with safety features designed to help drivers avoid collisions by warning them of potential accident sand in some cases, helping drivers steer or brake when they don't act quickly enough.
At stage 3, the NHTSA reported the car can be equipped with an automated driving-assistance system that can perform all tasks of driving, but a human must be alert and ready to take the wheel at any time. In stage 4, the vehicle will be able to perform all driving tasks and the motorist need not pay attention.
This technology "will definitely reduce the number of crashes," Barna said, noting that 94 percent of accidents are caused by human behavior.
With humans being only passengers and the vehicles having no steering wheel or brake or accelerator pedals, NHTSA expects stage 5 autonomous vehicles to eliminate 80 percent of non-impaired crashes because a driver will not be in control.
Ohio Department of Insurance public information officer Robert Denhard said motorists may have the benefit of filing fewer accidents claims with self-driving cars. However, the expense of the claim will rise along with the cost of the repairs, which increase with cars bearing more technology.
Denhard said transitioning to fully autonomous vehicles will "continue to shape how consumers think about and purchase insurance."
"Self-driving vehicles present an intriguing challenge and opportunity in many ways," he said. "Getting the technology to make the vehicles is only part of the challenge. The other half will be creating a legal, liability and regulatory framework to govern their use on public streets."
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey and Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon both said only time will tell how driverless vehicles will affect how laws are enforced.
"At least the way we understand law enforcement now, a deputy would have to be in the car because you need the deputy when you arrive at the scene of the call you are going too," Grey said. "Technology is going to change a lot of things for a lot of occupations, I presume law enforcement will change also."