Many of our San Diego readers are already aware that self-driving cars are legal in the state of California. This state has been among the very first to allow the autonomous vehicles to drive on the public roads here, largely because of the presence of the technology industry here and the need to allow comprehensive testing in real traffic and road conditions.
So far, the self-driving cars (which use laser and radar to navigate) have been shown to be very safe and have not been involved in any car accidents over the course of the more than 500,000 miles that Google's prototypes have been test-driven. As a result of this great safety record, many people are looking forward to a time when this technology will be readily available for consumers. However, there are still some key issues that need to be worked out before the cars will be ready to go on the market.
One of the big challenges that the autonomous cars face is adjusting navigation when they are on an area of road that has not been mapped or that is undergoing construction or has another obstacle. For the areas that are not comprehensively mapped, the car will turn over control to the human driver, who may also be unfamiliar with the area where the car has taken them. In a construction zone or near an accident where the road is obstructed, the cars have difficult responding to and prioritizing the variety of signals that may be coming from secondary traffic signs, a person directing traffic, or a traffic signal that is out of order. Engineers say that these problems can certainly be dealt with, but that these common problems will need to be addressed before the cars are ready for the public.
Self-driving cars also raise a number of questions about driver responsibility and liability during an accident. If a driver fails to intervene in time when a car's computer malfunctions, who would be liable for injuries or property damage that results?
Source: Business Insider, "Here Are Some of the Problems Google is Having with its Self-Driving Cars," Henry Blodget, March 3, 2013.
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