Usually, most of the buzz around new car technology happens at the major car shows. However, BMW has been hitting the headlines recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with its driverless car prototype. Based on BMW’s upcoming 2-Series platform, the car has been impressing journalists there with its futuristic control and sensor systems that are sending the car hurtling around the track at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is not a quiet drive in the country – the car is drifting effortlessly in and out of the corners at high speed, and it has also been weaving its way through obstacle courses without a hitch.
This is only the latest in a stream of developments with driverless cars over the last few years. Companies such as Ford and Nissan already have driverless prototypes – although these are not in the same league as what BMW has been showcasing at CES. Ford recently announced a research partnership with the University of Michigan and State Farm Insurance to look at the impact of driverless cars on safety and road congestion. Google has also been testing driverless cars on the roads between San Francisco and Los Angeles since 2010 – although they needed special permission to do this. So, the obvious question is whether you will be able to get a quote for a driverless car using your TrueCar app in the not-too-distant future.
There are many reasons why driverless cars make sense, and there is industry momentum to get them to market. To start with, driverless cars could significantly improve road safety, reducing injuries and deaths. Because they are computer-controlled and can detect potential hazards using their advanced sensors, they are able to initiate avoidance action in milliseconds – and can do this reliably, unlike human drivers. Another key advantage is that driverless cars may reduce road congestion – because they are controlled by computers, they can drive in formations where the gap between cars is very small. Also, they may have a positive impact on the environment, since they can be programmed to drive in the most fuel-efficient fashion.
However, it is unlikely that we will see driverless cars on the road until at least the end of the decade. There are two reasons for this. First of all, car companies will be reluctant to release the technology until it is bulletproof – the potential for catastrophic lawsuits if things go wrong is just too high. Second, current legislation in places such as the United States does not allow vehicles to be on the road if they do not have a driver. While lawmakers are starting to look at the ramifications of having driverless vehicles on the road, they are unlikely to make any changes to existing legislation until they are convinced that the technology is safe and it is clear who is legally responsible in the case of an accident. For example, if someone got behind the wheel of a driverless car while they were intoxicated, would this be a criminal act?