When Will You Drive a Robocar?

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy flickr
I just happened to be channel surfing last night when I stumbled upon a recent episode of Nova that was all about self-driving cars.  After taking the time to go through the evolution of fully and partially automated cars, along with the aftermath of several fatal crashes, the show pointed out the fact that like it or not, more and more cars on the road already have some form of automation installed at the factory.  Think about it.  What car doesn’t come equipped with Cruise Control these days.  Some of the pricier models even have Adaptive Cruise where the car’s speed is adjusted for the traffic ahead.  Most luxury models built today have what’s referred to as Lane Maintain that’s designed to keep the vehicle between the dotted lines.  Top of the line vehicles have automation that do everything from hitting the brakes if a hazard appears ahead to automatic lane change ability.  My point is that like it or not, automotive automation is creeping slowly but surely into every vehicle built in this country.  The question is when, not if, our cars are going to push us all out of the driver’s seat?

      1.      What’s the Big Deal? – While many American motorists are convinced that they can drive better than any robotic automobile, the statistics don’t bear this out.  Especially in today’s fast paced, distraction-filled driving environment, the average motorist is literally an accident looking for a place to happen.  What I mean by that is most motorists are more focused on what’s happening inside their vehicle than an what’s happening on the road.  Think I’m stretching the truth?  Ask yourself this question, “When you drive, do you keep your eyes on the road all the time, or do you look away to change radio stations, take or make a phone call, send a text, or deal with passengers and children?  If you admit to doing any of the above while behind the wheel, you’ve just confessed to putting you and your passengers at peril every time you drive.  What’s the big deal, you ask?  When you consider that a car traveling 70 MPH covers 102 feet every second, the big deal is should someone ahead slam on the brakes while you’re distracted, the next sound you hear will be breaking glass.  On the other hand, if your vehicle came equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control, it would have applied the brakes and stopped the car before a collision took place.

Image courtesy flickr
The Downside of Automotive Automation – Since there are 5 different levels of automotive automation, I’m not saying that self-driving cars are the be-all, end-all for safer driving.  At least not at this stage.  Until truly autonomous vehicles (otherwise known in the industry as Level 5) are the norm, the ability for automated vehicles to assist a driver is limited.  The Nova episode I mentioned earlier pointed that out all too well.  In it they showed one of the most advanced automated vehicles on the road today, a Tesla equipped with Autopilot.  While able to do everything from maintaining a safe following distance to adjusting the vehicle’s speed and even change lanes, it was noted during the broadcast that Autopilot was designed for highway driving, not stop and go city traffic.  Also pointed out was the fact that this feature was meant as a driver assist, not to replace the driver altogether.  At least three fatal crashes involving Tesla’s equipped with Autopilot were the result of the driver failing to take back control when a hazard the system was not designed to avoid was encountered.  The Nova episode also showed several drivers who owned a Tesla failing to pay attention to the road around them once Autopilot was engaged. 

      3.      We’re Not at the Set It and Forget It Stage Yet – Regardless of the amount of automation built into vehicles today, there is currently no system available that is designed to Set It and Forget It.  Try telling that to some car owners.  We’ve all seen drivers ignoring their primary driving function to pursue some other issue while they drive.  Texting drivers are the worst, followed by people talking on the phone.  The only accident I was involved in during the past 30-years occurred as I stopped at a red light only to hear the squeal of brakes directly behind me as a Millennial looked up to see the traffic had stopped.  Fortunately, the collision was so minor it failed to set off my car’s airbags.  But it could have been very different had the lad not looked up at all.   The kid in the car behind me was lucky his smartphone didn’t cost him his license.  He might not be as lucky the next time around.

Image courtesy flickr
      4.      Does Automotive Automation Really Make Driving Safer? – While the headlines point out each and every fatal crash caused by self-driving cars, the number of collisions caused by semi or fully-automated vehicles pales in comparison to the number of crashes caused every day by cars being driven by people.  Since fully 90% of car crashes are due to driver error, this speaks for itself.  Furthermore, industry statistics bears out the fact that semi and fully autonomous vehicles are far safer.  There are several reasons for this.  First of all, automated vehicles never drive emotionally.  They don’t experience road rage, they never fall asleep at the wheel and they stay focused 100% of the time on the task at hand.  Secondly, they are better equipped to see and react to the world around them.  Instead of having only one pair of eyes, they come equipped with numerous sensors including cameras, radar and lidar that scans 360 degrees around the vehicle.  Thirdly they react 1,000 times faster to changes and hazards (provided they’re programmed to recognize them). 

      5.      What About Driver Push-Back? – While there are still a number of drivers out there who honestly believe that it’s their God given right to climb behind the wheel, this kind of knee-jerk reaction will dissipate once drivers get accustomed to their vehicles doing some of the decision making for them.  The clincher will be when drivers of self-driving cars start making lower insurance payments, as well as paying fewer tickets for speeding.  Within 10-years, all cars will be highly automated, which will make the decision a moot point.  If you’ve seen the reckless way that some motorists drive, my attitude is the sooner the better when it comes to automotive automation.  Besides, whether you realize it or not, if you own or lease a late model car, truck or van, you already drive a robocar.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on auto insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. I'm ready for robocars. Too many Florida drivers are like kamikaze pilots.

  2. Yes, coming very soon (in less than 2 years). 5 G will make this a reality for those who like living on the bleeding edge and have the wherewithal to pay for it!


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