Self-driving automobiles have been a part of science fiction for decades. At a General Motors Futurama car exhibit in 1939, a narrator predicted that in 20 years, automobiles would be going 100 miles per hour safely with the help of automatic radio control. A similar Futurama car event is now set for 2010 in China. In fiction, the Batmobile, Herbie the Love Bug, and K.I.T.T. are all automobiles that can all operate themselves without a human driver. In reality, the self-driving car is harder to create than the people in 1939 believe, but there has been a significant amount of research and experimentation into the concept of an automated automobile.
In 1997, an experiment was done using Interstate 15 in San Diego. Using magnets embedded on the road, “smart cars” could drive on these special, smart roads, spaced only 15 feet apart from each other, going 65 MPH. This demonstration showed that if cars could be safely grouped together more closely, the road’s capacity can be doubled or even tripled if the smart cars became a reality. Unfortunately, the concept was impractical because it would be next to impossible to embed magnets into every road.
Now that we are in the 21st century, we have yet to see self-driving cars become an actual reality for everyday American automobile drivers. However, there have been significant advances in the research of self-driving cars just in the past few years, mostly done with the help of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 2004, they held a “Grand Challenge” for driverless cars, with a course that self-driving automobiles were supposed to travel on. None of the driverless cars made it past seven miles.
The next year, in 2005, five cars made it to the finish, which means they finished a 132 mile long course. In November 2007, six cars made it to the finish line on a 60-mile course on an Air Force base. This does not sound very impressive compared to the 2005 competition, but this is what really clinches it: the driverless cars had to find parking spots, obey stop signs, idle in traffic, yield to other cars in the intersection, and merge onto traffic going 30MPH. Basically, they had a realistic course to drive through, which was not the case in the previous Grand Challenges. Not surprisingly, some car accidents and near misses did occur, but considering their mediocre start in 2005, the 2007 results are incredible.
In the near future, as reported by CNN automobiles should may be able to communicate with each other and react quickly to unexpected road conditions and reduce the risk of a car accident occurring to close to nothing. However, as these concepts have not yet been developed to their fullest possible potential, many car accidents will continue to happen due to many possible causes, like driver fatigue, distraction, or drunk driving.
Our car accident lawyers encourage automobile drivers to take the best precautions and make safe choices so they can reduce the risk of an auto accident happening while they drive their cars.
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Michael Pines is a former insurance company attorney who graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1987. While he was an insurance attorney, he learned from behind the scenes how insurance companies work and how they decide how much to pay injured people. Now that he works against insurance companies, Michael’s inside knowledge has resulted in significant benefits to his clients injured in car accidents. Learn more about Michael Pines