With an alarming number of traffic
deaths each year, drivers need to embrace the safety that self-driving cars can
bring to our roadways.  Technology has
undoubtedly made the world a better place. 
How will technology make our roadways safer too?  At first, cars that drive themselves might
sound like a scary idea.  The truth is
that there are already many cars on our roadways today that are partway self-driving.

            The Society of Automotive Engineers
has classified self-driving cars into levels ranging from Level 0 to Level 5 (Davies
2016).  A typical car with no
self-driving capabilities would be classified as Level 0 (Davies 2016).  On the other hand, a car classified as Level
5 would be completely self-driving and not intended to be driven by an actual
driver (Davies 2016).  Today, the best
self-driving cars available to consumers are only at Level 2. In the
self-driving car industry, there are many businesses taking different
approaches in an attempt to reach the coveted Level 5 autonomy.  Four companies that are currently creating
self-driving cars include Waymo, Tesla, Comma AI, and Embark. 

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Waymo is a company owned by Alphabet,
Google’s parent company (Waymo Family of
Sites).  The company has been working
on creating self-driving cars since 2009 when it was still working as Google’s
self-driving car project (Waymo Family of
Sites).  By 2012, their customized
Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h were able to drive themselves comfortably along freeways.  This is when the company decided to start to
shift their focus to the more complexed city streets.  In 2015, Waymo, still known has Google’s
self-driving car project, gave the world’s first fully self-driving ride on
public roadways (Waymo Family of Sites).  This ride was a test of Level 5 autonomy as there
wasn’t a steering wheel or pedals inside the car (Waymo Family of Sites).  The
only passenger in the vehicle was Steve, a man who is blind (Waymo Family of Sites).  With this self-driving technology that Waymo
has created, their cars can be classified as Level 4 autonomy.

            Tesla also has self-driving
technology built into all of their cars. 
Tesla uses an autopilot system that is rated as Level 2 self-driving.  This self-driving car technology is built
into all of their cars.  The technology
allows the car to stay in the correct lane, and change lanes (Tesla Family of Sites).  Although this technology works great while on
the freeway, the Level 2 autonomy still requires that the driver be alert and
paying attention at all times.  This
technology isn’t as advanced as Waymo’s, technology, but it is already in
production and being used on the roads today.

            Comma AI is another company that is creating
self-driving technology.  Their goal is
to make the technology very affordable and available to anybody using only a
front mounted phone camera, and the sensors that are built into modern cars (Comma AI Family of Sites).  This affordable technology is designed to
work with cars that potential customers already have.  The software that they have developed is
open-sourced, so anybody who has enough technological knowledge can implement
it for their own car using only a few pieces of custom hardware Comma AI designed
and sells.  Comma AI is also working to
attain Level 5 autonomy in a different way from other businesses.  They are utilizing heavily artificial
intelligence.  Their idea is to show the
car what “good driving” looks like.  This
is already being accomplished by many users of a mobile application Comma AI
developed called “chffr – Dash Cam” (Comma
AI Family of Sites).  This app is a
dash cam that records information about the way that its users drive and then
sends it to Comma AI to implement into the open-sourced Openpilot
software.  The plan is to collect as much
information about “good driving” as possible so that eventually, the car will
be able to drive itself with no problem. 

            The other company working to
implement self-driving technology is Embark. 
Embark is a smaller company that has developed self-driving trucks (Embark Family of Sites).  Their focus is on creating trucks that can
drive the long distances of interstate travel without a driver using a variety
of cameras and sensors.  This technology
is already being implemented to deliver refrigerators with a company Embark
partnered up with for rolling out this technology (Davies 2017).  Their technology is still being tested, but
when it is finally rolled out commercially, they hope to be allow their trucks
to drive without a driver along stretches of freeway and only require truck
drivers when they arrive on the exit close to their destination.   

Self-driving vehicles offer
countless benefits when it comes to keeping our roadways safer.  The first way that self-driving cars will
make our roadways safer is because they will allow people to feel more
comfortable.  At first, it may seem scary
that a car is driving without human input, but after getting used to it, it
will feel more comfortable, especially when on the interstate.  When on the interstate, passing trucks can be
a bit intimidating.  I am worried that the
truck drivers might be drowsy or not paying attention.  I am worried that they might drift into my
lane.  This can also be said for all cars
I am interacting with on the road.  It is
hard to know if the people driving on the road are paying attention to driving.

Fortunately, self-driving cars are
already helping with this.  Embark is
currently using their self-driving trucks to deliver refrigerators (Davies 2017).  These trucks are driving a route from El
Paso, Texas to Palm Springs, California along Interstate 10 (Davies 2017).  Currently, a driver is still required to sit
in the truck and monitor it to ensure everything is running properly.  In the future, however, the goal is for the
truck driver to drive it to the interstate. 
The truck driver can then get out and let the truck drive by itself
along Interstate 10.  Although this may
sound like a huge challenge, it isn’t as challenging as it may seem.  Along the interstate, there aren’t
pedestrians, traffic lights, or other complicated traffic things.  The routes these trucks would drive would not
be too crowded.  The big benefit of
having these self-driving trucks drive rather than humans is that the computers
won’t get tired.  It is easy for truck
drivers to get tired and distracted along these long stretches of highway.  This means they are not always alert when
driving.  Computers will help all on the
roadways by keeping the truck in its lane and driving perfectly along the
interstate.  This helps to create a more
comfortable and safer environment for everyone on the roadway.  The truck drivers don’t have to try to stay
focus and risk becoming drowsy and go off the road, and the cars around the
semi can feel confident that the truck is going to stay in its lane and not hit
anyone.  Self-driving trucks could
prevent 4,000 fatal truck crashes each year that usually result from human
error (Davies 2017).

Another reason that self-driving
cars will create safer roadways is because of the consistency that self-driving
cars offer.  Self-driving cars are unlike
humans in that they do not get tired, bored, or have distractions.  These cars will consistently do the same
thing each day.  This consistently will
ensure that a minimal number of crashes occur.

Although self-driving cars will
have an overall positive impact on the world, like most new technology, there
are some concerns.  An example of one concern
is a fatal car crash that occurred while a driver was using the Tesla autopilot
feature (Spacek).  The car drove right
under a semi that was making a left-hand turn (Spacek).  It is suspected that the truck trailer had
blended in with the sky causing the Tesla autopilot system to not sense it
(Spacek).  Although this may seem like an
example of self-driving cars causing safety hazards, the main cause of the
accident was the driver not paying attention. 
The driver using this technology is technically required to be attentive
and be ready to take control of the car at any second when using this
feature.  In this case the driver wasn’t.  Many witnesses say the driver should have seen
the truck and at least been able to break (Spacek).  After this accident, however, Tesla changed
it so that both the radar and camera sensors have the same level of priority
when stopping the car to prevent an object from blending in with the background
(Krisher).  This shows that the software
engineers creating these systems have a huge responsibility.  With ample testing, however, these types of
incidents should be easily avoidable making self-driving cars safer than the
traditional car requiring a driver.

Self-driving cars will create safer
roadways for all.  They will allow
attentive drivers the luxury of not worrying about inattentive drivers.  If properly designed, the cars will
seamlessly fit in with the traffic system already in place.  Now, it is just a matter of time before
self-driving vehicles become the norm as a safer alternative to traditional
vehicles.

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