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How Dangerous are Self-Driving Cars?

  • George Putic

Are self-driving cars ready to hit the road? Skepticism abounds after a recent fatal crash in Florida, in which a 40-year-old man was killed while driving in autopilot mode.

Experts say the technology is constantly improving, but the public must be better informed about its limits.

The car involved in the Florida accident was a $100,000 Tesla Model S electric sedan, with technology that enables limited self-driving capabilities. But its manufacturer, Tesla Motors, has said that even when operating on autopilot, the driver should be ready to take control at any moment.

Experts say the widely used term "self-driving" is misleading since the technology still has limitations, and that using the terms "partially-automated" or "driver-assist feature" would be more appropriate.

Cars with a driver-assist feature can travel on highways at a constant speed, keep a safe distance from other cars, brake and accelerate according to the traffic flow, and even pass slower vehicles. However, drivers should still be actively monitoring the road.

Analyst Tim Carone of the University of Notre Dame told VOA that more accidents are inevitable as the number of partially-automated cars grows. But once problems are rectified, he predicts the new technology will dramatically reduce the number of crashes, lower consumption of fuel, and diminish emissions.

Currently, almost all major car manufacturers are developing fully autonomous vehicles, but how soon they hit the road will depend on the public’s perception of their safety.

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