Self-Driving Cars Could Save Our Roads

About 90 percent of car crashes are attributed to human error — let that sink in for a minute. In fact, preliminary information from the National Safety Council estimates that 40,000 people died and 4.6 million were seriously injured in car crashes in the U.S. in 2016. One of the biggest concerns is distracted driving, with some estimates attributing it to eight out of 10 crashes.

The Distracted Driving Epidemic
One of the largest threats to the safety of our roadways is distracted driving. It only takes a split second of driver inattention for a collision to occur, so it's imperative to keep our eyes on the road at all times.

An Esurance survey found that 58 percent of drivers admit to occasionally or frequently engaging in distracted driving — but what's most shocking is that those drivers who admit to driving distracted are 36 percent less likely to be "very concerned" about the issue than those who claim to be rarely distracted.

What's worse, the auto technology designed to help keep motorists safer (like lane-change assist and blind-spot detection) could be distracting more than they're helping. Many drivers believe their vehicle's autonomous warning signals are the most distracting aspect of all this new auto technology.

So if many drivers who engage in driving distracted don't see it as a significant problem (not to mention that fact that autonomous safety tech actually may be distracting us more), how are we supposed to address one of the biggest issues plaguing our modern roadways? Well, lawmakers across the United States are coming together to form solutions using driverless car technology as a basis for eliminating human error from the transportation equation.

Numbers Don't Lie
Touted by some as one of the most transformative public-health initiatives of the 21st century, driverless cars could save a lot of lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2016 alone saw nearly 3,500 distracted-driving-related deaths, and in 2015, 391,000 people were injured in a crash involving distracted driving.

Even eating or drinking (non-alcoholic drinks) while driving can be distracting, with one study by Exxon Mobil of 1,000 drivers citing that 70 percent of motorists eat behind the wheel, while 83 percent drink beverages. A separate study by Lytx in 2014 found that someone who eats or drinks while driving is 3.6 times more likely to be in a crash.

These numbers are further proof of what we already know — a large percentage of crashes could be prevented by simply remaining attentive while driving. Furthermore, driverless cars could be the ultimate solution to distracted driving (and really, all human error behind the wheel). After all, if your car's driving for you, you could safely have a steak dinner in the car.

Self-Driving Cars Still Need Some Work
There's a good reason we still don't have fully driverless cars on our roadways yet — the tech behind them still needs a significant amount of improvement. And while automakers and tech companies are working to address concerns – both from consumers and legislators – they still have a ways to go.

Then there's the public trust issue — not only is there a technological obstacle, but a cultural one, as well. Even though some advocates believe we should put driverless cars on our roads as soon as they're even just slightly safer than human drivers, many people won’t want this technology implemented in the real world until it's definitively safer than human drivers.

In fact, according to Esurance's survey, 83 percent of Americans cannot imagine giving up control of driving in favor of being auto-chauffeured. Clearly, some major work needs to be done to build public trust in the technology itself before most people will even set foot into a driverless car.

Autonomous Vehicles Show Major Promise
Driverless cars show major promise for myriad reasons — number one being the removal of human error from our roadways. While many vehicles produced in 2014 or later have standardized semi-autonomous tech like lane-change assist, automatic braking and blind-spot detection, drivers still need to have their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times. Entirely autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, don't need any input from humans at all, relying on computers, sensors, lasers, and other advanced, up-and-coming tech.

Fully driverless cars introduce a new way to travel, with safety and convenience at the forefront of their benefits. Of course, much work still needs to be done to produce reliable tech (and public trust of it), but the majority of experts in this field believe it's an entirely achievable goal that we'll all bear witness to in the very near future.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. He is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how autonomous vehicles will impact the auto insurance industry. In his spare time, he is also a mobile guru, aspiring yogi, and mixed martial artist.

Posted on Jul 25, 2018

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