Could Semi-Autonomous Cars Boost Fatalities?

Posted on January 26, 2017

Autopilot car technology is in the testing stage, but it is advancing at high speed. The new auto-pilot systems are being touted as a potential solution to human error, which is said to be a factor in 94 percent of accidents.

The use of semi-autonomous automobiles, however, is already widespread. In fact, one was linked to a fatality in Florida in 2016. A system dubbed Autopilot in the Tesla Model S sedan was engaged when the car collided with a tractor-trailer, killing the Tesla’s driver. Though the Model S could steer itself, detect lane markings and obstacles, and brake, it failed to “see” the truck.

Dangers Lurking in Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

Granted, technology already has rolled far past where the Tesla was when the sedan crashed in May 2016, but there still are major issues with semi-autonomous cars. The primary issue is the handoff from car to human when the system detects the need for a switch:

  • Problems can arise when a switch from autonomous driving is needed but the human isn’t paying attention.
  • There is also the risk that human intervention will be necessary but the car does not alert the human.

In short, the humans behind the steering wheels of today’s semi-autonomous cars need to pay attention. In fact, GM is developing a system that will track the driver’s eyes to ensure they remain on the road. And Tesla is tweaking its Autopilot technology to make sure the driver can’t take his or her hands off the steering wheel for very long.

Some might argue that if staying alert and paying attention are the goals, a human could benefit as much from a cup of coffee as from Autopilot. Then again, the next wave of the techno-wizards’ wand might yield semi-autonomous car technology that will free humans to brew their own coffee while cruising in their infallible semi-autonomous cars.

Prices and Features for Semi-Autonomous Cars

According to The Motley Fool website, the full autopilot car price in 2014 was up to $100,000 higher than for the same model without the self-driving bells and whistles. It also notes that the price is going down quickly as the technology develops – and that the price is a moot point to the average consumer as long as the use of self-driving cars is limited to testing.
Semi-autonomous vehicles are out there now, though, with a semi-autonomous Honda Civic listing for about $20,000. Others range from about $45,000 for an Infiniti Q50S sedan to more than $250,000 for a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG coupe, according to Car and Driver.

These semi-autonomous cars come with a range of features, such as:

  • Advanced driving assistance systems
  • Stereo cameras to give systems the depth perception needed to identify pedestrians and lane markings
  • Radar units to monitor traffic from every direction
  • Intelligent cruise control
  • Predictive forward collision warning systems
  • Adaptive brake technology
  • Forward emergency braking
  • Lane departure warning/prevention
  • Active lane control
  • Windshield cameras to govern lane control
  • Sensors to control wipers and headlights
  • Adaptive cruise control that relies on radar

The more affordable these semi-autonomous vehicles become, the more we will see them on the road. That also means the potential for more distracted drivers as people rely more on their cars to watch the road for them.

Need Help After a Distracted Driving Crash?

If a negligent driver in any type of car is responsible for a crash that injures you or a loved one, you can turn to the New York auto accident attorneys at Belluck & Fox for legal assistance in your fight for financial compensation.

Contact us today for a free initial consultation to learn how we will fight for the justice you deserve.

MIT Technology Review
Car and Driver