Auto manufacturers and data tech giants are barreling forward in the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs), testing the technology at a rate that seems to suggest a mass rollout in the near future is likely.
Many people are ready to give AVs a try, but there are still important obstacles to a mass rollout. Some sections of the public are apprehensive, and the regulatory framework does not reflect their unique requirements (never mind the legal gray areas). And manufacturers still need to test them in more climatic conditions to ensure they're safe in different regions.
Read below to learn more about the barriers standing in the way of the widespread use of self-driving vehicles.
Traffic regulations and road infrastructure currently don't reflect the needs of AVs. For example, road signs tend to be differently colored, sized and designed in every state, which could make it difficult for AVs to cross state lines and accurately read traffic signs. Although the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a January 2021 report that it would promote the changes necessary to accommodate AVs, those efforts have yet to come to fruition.
There are also important questions surrounding insurance and liability in the event of an accident. As the law currently stands, drivers are responsible for any damage their vehicle caused while they are at the wheel, according to Roden Law. But will this need to be changed to reflect a scenario in which drivers aren't the primary operators of the vehicle? Since most AVs will still allow drivers to take control if they need, the issue remains unresolved.
Not suitable for all conditions
Testing and rollouts have been mostly confined to warm-weather states, like California and Arizona, and many AV models are inadequately prepared for the hazards of colder, harsher regions.
Snow and rain are particularly challenging for driverless cars as their cameras and sensors — which are vital to their self-driving capability — can become easily obscured and rendered practically unworkable in these conditions. Warm-weather testing doesn't pick up the data needed to develop the technology for these conditions, further complicating the problem.
Even in the event of a mass AV rollout, they are far from being suitably equipped for use in many parts of the world, so their availability will be limited.
People don't trust them
Probably the greatest obstacle to the widespread use of driverless vehicles is the public's general sense of apathy toward them. A poll conducted by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education in May 2020 found that almost 75% of Americans did not feel AVs were "ready for primetime," and 20% doubted they ever would be.
On the other hand, 58% of respondents said they would trust AVs more if they could experience a ride in one for themselves, a sign that attitudes could gradually change over time as AVs become a more common feature of everyday life.
Change is coming — but not yet
AVs are expected to dramatically change transportation, urban infrastructure and the way of doing business for many industries. There's good reason to be excited, but the technology will only truly be ready for this revolution once the rest of society has caught up, and that could take a long time.
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