What is an automated vehicle?
A fully automated vehicle is one that automatically performs all the tasks of driving in any conditions, from the start of a trip to the finish on any roads. But automation also enables “levels” short of that full, start-to-finish trip. For example, many cars sold today have automated systems that help make driving safer or easier, such as automatic emergency braking systems that can hit the brakes before a crash, or parking-assist systems that parallel park the vehicle automatically. A few vehicles today have systems that automate highway driving — maintaining speed and shifting lanes automatically, with the driver required to constantly monitor the road.
I hear about driverless cars, self-driving cars or automated vehicles all the time. Are fully driverless vehicles available today?
Not to the public. Several companies — including many PAVE members — are testing highly automated vehicles. This testing is paving the way for widespread availability of fully automated vehicles in the future. But while you can’t buy a fully automated car today, there are already highly advanced technologies available that can prevent crashes and save lives. Clearing up this understandable confusion — helping people understand what technology is available today, and what is coming in the future — is a big part of our mission.
This all seems complicated! How do automated vehicles work?
Think of it this way: When you drive, you use your eyes to see the road, your hands and feet to control the car with a steering wheel and pedals, and your brain links what you see with how you control the car, processing all the information and making decisions about your driving. An automated car has “eyes” — radar, cameras, and laser range-finders that never blink and see all around the car. It has “hands and feet” — electronic systems that control the car’s movements just as you do with your hands and feed. And it has a “brain” — powerful computers that process all the information from its sensors and make decisions about how to get you where you want to go, safely for you and other road users.
OK, but can I trust computers and electronics to get me around safely?
We believe one of the greatest potential benefits of automated vehicles will be increased road safety. About 40,000 people die in road crashes every year — the equivalent of a small airliner crashing every single day. The vast majority of those crashes have a human component — drivers deciding to speed or drive after drinking, or being distracted or drowsy behind the wheel. An automated vehicle will never get sleepy or look down at its cell phone while driving or stop at the bar after work. And, to make sure they always operate safely, manufacturers are conducting extensive testing of automated vehicles, logging millions of miles to perfect the technology. By the time consumers are riding in fully automated cars, they will be the most extensively tested automotive advance in history.
We’ve been driving this way for decades; why change now?
The automobile revolutionized transportation, bringing mobility and freedom to millions. PAVE members believe automated vehicles can bring even more freedom and mobility, allowing those who may not be able to drive the opportunity to get to work or school more freely. Automated vehicles have the potential to help reduce the environmental impact of transportation, cutting fuel usage, and enabling new models of vehicle ownership that reduce the need for parking spaces in communities. And automation could reduce the roughly 6 million crashes reported every year, saving billions of dollars in damage to the economy and reducing the roughly 40,000 highway deaths that occur each year. In order to make sure we maximize those benefits, PAVE is working to help inform the public so everyone can help shape our transportation future.