Autonomous Vehicle Technology Getting More Road Time and Better Safety Features

Autonomous vehicles have been receiving a growing amount of media attention over the last year or so, and for good reason. Companies like Tesla, Google, Lyft, and a number of other tech and automobile giants have made huge strides in getting this technology on the road. But one of the biggest questions regarding technology is this: are autonomous cars safer than those operated by human drivers?

According to data from the Insurance Research Council, approximately one out of every seven U.S. drivers is currently without insurance. This means that drivers are already taking risks with their vehicles that could have severe consequences.

A new government report released earlier this week revealed that Waymo, Google’s self-driving offshoot, has taken another step towards making fully-autonomous automobiles accessible to the mainstream population.

California’s DMV recently released the latest annual autonomous vehicles disengagement report, which tracks the number of times human drivers had to take control back from an autonomous vehicle. Waymo experienced a significant drop in disengagement numbers according to 2016 data.

Waymo’s drop in disengagements came with a 50% increase in distance traveled by autonomous vehicles in 2016. The company ramped up their total driving distance to 635,868 miles last year. Dimitri Dolgov, head of self-driving technology for Waymo, said in a blog post that the significant decrease in disengagements paired with the increase in distance “reflects the significant work we’ve been doing to make our software and hardware more capable and mature.”

While autonomous vehicles are becoming more common, it’s uncertain whether they’ll be available for the public to purchase anytime soon. Many experts assume that self-driving technology will make car ownership less appealing to many people. In fact, ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber are counting on it.

Most analysts believe that autonomous vehicles will have the biggest impact in major cities, where 70% of the world’s population currently resides. Despite promises of fully functional autonomous ride-hailing services being available to the public in just a few short years, many experts believe it could be decades before autonomous vehicles are fully capable of handling complex urban streets.

Driving may be one of the three or four activities that happy retirees report engaging in, and many argue that autonomous vehicles would allow those retirees who don’t want to drive the flexibility to still get out of the house. But autonomous vehicles still elicit feelings of unease. An article from Scientific American even stated that testing an autonomous vehicle is akin to “putting a teenage driver on the road.”

It’s uncertain when autonomous vehicle technology will be considered safe enough for private use, but it’s no secret that these tech giants are making big strides when it comes to their autonomous innovations.

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