The automobile industry has been one of the biggest drivers of economic advancement throughout the world. Now, it appears that we’re on the brink of a new era in automotive history as self-driving cars are slowly, but surely making their way into the market. Since 2004 when the push toward autonomous vehicles (AV) really got into high gear, many companies, from well-known car brands like Ford, Volvo, and General Motors, to technology companies like Google and Uber, have ambitiously started working on their own self-driving vehicles. When consumers go about choosing a vehicle to purchase, most consider safety to be an important factor in their decision, so AV manufacturers need to make sure that safety is at the forefront of their AV development.
What is a “self-driving” vehicle?
Most people are familiar with the term “autopilot” in context to an airplane’s autopilot feature. The automotive industry uses the same term to describe a self-driving car. However, unlike the airplane term, there is not an actual autopilot or driverless automotive system. The “self-driving” term actually refers to “assisted driving”, because today’s systems can control the steering, braking, and acceleration functions. However, the driver still needs to be engaged with the car. This feature is currently available in new car makes and types in the market. Fully self-driving cars are not available at this time.
Safety features to look for when choosing a vehicle with self-driving capabilities
Like airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS) became must-have safety features in cars when they were introduced 30 years ago, and there are similar safety feature advancements today. Important safety features are Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). Both systems use sensors and radar receivers to maintain distance and control vehicle steering. However, in a self-driving car, those technologies go a bit farther than just safety features because they compose the majority of the self-driving functionality as well. Most “autopilot-like” systems that are available from makers like Tesla, GM, Audi, Ford, Lincoln, Mercedes, and Volvo use both LKA and ACC to control the steering, acceleration, and braking of the car.
GM takes Cadillac beyond just ACC & LKA with its Super Cruise package. Cadillac has been ranked as a close second to Tesla’s technology. VW/Audi/Porsche, as well as BMW, feature Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), and Attention monitoring as both safety features and self-driving core technologies. VW/Audi/Porsche has more advanced self-driving systems available in Europe, but that system is not yet approved for the US market. Meanwhile, Ford will offer its “BlueCruise” package next year with functionality similar to that of Tesla.
In order for the self-driving car manufacturers to really impress upon American consumers the need for a self-driving car while they are choosing a vehicle, they need to make sure that the safety questions are answered first. In the end, the company that can most decidedly explain why their self-driving car is the safest is going to be the one that is the most successful.