By: Stephanie Carnes, LMC Spotlight
Less than five years ago, newspapers around the world reported enthusiastically that by 2020, fully driverless cars would be on the road. Earlier this year, Elon Musk promised a driverless Tesla by the end of 2020. The general public seems to believe these aggressive timelines, with 23% stating that autonomous vehicles are currently available for purchase.
In contrast, most automotive and technology expertsare estimating that we are several decades away from driverless cars. So what is the disconnect between the popular understanding and the reality?
The major factor in the development and adoption of driverless cars is the technology, which most casual observers seem to believe is further along than it actually is. The Society of Automotive Engineers has devised levels of driving automation as a standard:
At this point, the technology is somewhere between level 2 and level 3. Many new vehicles already have the driver support features described in levels 1 and 2, but the automated driving features are still in development.
Obviously, if the technology isn’t ready, we’re still a long way off from driverless vehicles. But there are several other factors to consider that are extending the timeline:
- Infrastructure: In the United States and most countries around the world, many roads and bridges are aging and not ideal for autonomous vehicles.
- Lack of wireless connectivity: Vehicles will need to be able to communicate with each other seamlessly for safety.
- Liability: Right now, a driver who causes an accident is liable. But if there is no human driver, who is at fault? The car manufacturer? The city?
- Traffic laws: Lawmakers know that new traffic laws will need to be enacted once cars are driverless, but at this point, there is no motivation to pass these laws.
- Jobs: The reality is that if society switched to autonomous vehicles, jobs in many sectors such as truck driving and taxi would be lost. This is not a politically popular outcome, and it will have real effects on the lives of these workers.
Predictions have changed and will likely continue to do so. One thing we can be sure of is the continued interest in autonomous vehicles—not least of all because of the massive amounts of money car manufacturers and ride-hailing companies have invested.