Self-Driving Cars of the Future? NHTSA Says “Wait”


Twenty years ago, children would have likely thought we’d be in flying cars by now. While we aren’t that far, vehicles are getting more advanced, with automation growing at a pretty fast clip. It’s because of this that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued new regulations governing vehicle automation in an effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Automakers have begun including automated features in vehicles. Some features such as automated braking are designed to take over for the driver when danger is sensed. On the other end of the spectrum are vehicles that require very little input from the driver. Regardless of how automated a vehicle is, safety is important.

“Whether we’re talking about automated features in cars today or fully automated vehicles of the future, our top priority is to ensure these vehicles – and their occupants – are safe,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “Our research covers all levels of automation, including advances like automatic braking that may save lives in the near-term, while the recommendations to states better oversee self-driving vehicle development, which holds promising long-term safety benefits.”

The new regulations demand states and automakers put safety first in the development and testing of these automated vehicles. They also classify such vehicles according to how autonomous they are.

For instance, the majority of vehicles on the road now are considered Level 0, with no automation. Some have Function Specific Automation, which is a Level 1. That means that some functions are automated such as electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes.

Level 2 vehicles are those that have at least two primary control functions automated. These would include those that use adaptive cruise in conjunction with lane centering. The Google car, one of the most automated vehicles currently being tested, is classified as a Level 3 vehicle. It allows the driver to hand over all control in certain situations and allows the driver to regain control when warranted.

Finally, Level 4 vehicles are those that may one day rule the road, where all functions are automated. In these, the driver may only be responsible for entering a destination, as in a GPS system, and then enjoying the automated ride.

We have a long way to go before vehicles are completely automated. In the meantime, automakers have a lot of work to convince people and the government that such automation is safe.

While we don’t have self-driving cars, the advances in vehicle technology are largely seen as advances in car safety. Even so, accidents happen.

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