Could self-driving cars prevent college students from driving under the influence?

Is the future a safer place?

Each year, self-driving cars become more prevalent in the transportation industry, coming closer and closer to being available for consumer purchase. Although there are still many kinks to work out before they hit the mass market, there are a large number of benefits expected from the eventual adoption of autonomous vehicles. As college students, we’re often eager to use any new technology that provides us with more freedom — such as ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber — because they reduce the chance of us getting in trouble during a night on the town.

Although it’s too soon to say what the impact of autonomous vehicles will be on any community, self-driving cars are expected to decrease the rates of car accidents in general. The evolution of these vehicles has been huge over the last decade, and as more trials and test runs are completed, we will likely see the extent of the benefits this new technology has to offer.

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Benefits of self-driving cars

One of the largest and most awaited benefits of the adoption of autonomous vehicles is the lower rates of car accidents that are expected when a computer is behind the wheel. Studies have found that advanced driver assistance systems have the potential to reduce car accident deaths by 90 percent, which will save Americans billions of dollars in emergency medical care costs. Because most car accidents are caused by human error, tech experts and car manufacturers believe that removing the human decision from the equation will lead to overall safer roads.

Another consequence of allowing computers to take hold of the wheel is the increased efficiency of traffic flow, which is expected to reduce commuting times. With the decrease in accidents and a more standardized approach to driving, it’s expected that many of the reasons that usually cause delays in traffic will no longer be factors on the road, which should reduce traffic congestion by 13 percent. By reducing traffic congestion, autonomous vehicles should improve fuel economy by 39 percent, as they reduce the amount of time we spend idling in our cars. This should also reduce the traffic and other obstacles that we face on our way to class each day.

Reducing these hazards on the roads is expected to streamline and revolutionize the driving process. Although fully autonomous vehicles are expected to hit the market over the next decade, it will be several decades before the majority of cars on the road are autonomous. In the time between now and then, legislators and insurance companies will need to work out regulations for these vehicles and guidelines for driver responsibility.

One concern that has not yet been figured out is, who takes the blame when an accident occurs if a computer is driving; is it the fault of the person in the car, or of the car manufacturer? Although this is not yet clear, taking the responsibility of driving away from people — especially busy college students who are often not as careful as we should be — should help reduce accidents across the board. There’s a long way to go and a lot to figure out before we arrive at conclusions and solutions to the legislative concerns, but for the most part, the pros of autonomous vehicles will outweigh the cons.

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Evolution of autonomous vehicles

As new technology comes out, it becomes easier and less expensive to automate aspects of vehicular driving. We have had level one automation in cars for decades now, since the invention of cruise control began helping drivers automate speed adjustment when driving long distances. Level two automation can automatically take safety actions but requires the driver to stay alert at the wheel, in case human intervention is needed. This type of automation is already available in some newer car models.

Level three automation also requires a human driver, but allows the driver to give up some safety-critical functions to the vehicle. This middle ground makes car manufacturers uneasy, which is why many jump to level four automation, which is a fully autonomous vehicle except under certain weather and unmapped area circumstances. Level five automation is a vehicle that is fully automated in all conditions, and is a technology we are still waiting to be classified as safe and ready for public use. This type of car could be used by students and adults to prevent drunk driving, as it wouldn’t require any action from us except entering the car.

Unsurprisingly, a large investor in lobbying for autonomous vehicles has been the liquor industry, as self-driving cars would not only reduce the rates of drunk driving accidents and DUIs, but would also help increase alcohol sales by a projected 250 billion dollars each year. The quicker that autonomous vehicles get on the road, the faster people will stay out to drink longer instead of worrying about needing to drive home safely. For students who are often eager to take part in every social drinking event, and don’t yet worry enough about the consequences of these actions, this technology could be life-saving.

Self-driving cars are expected to have a wide range of benefits on the road, from being more environmentally friendly to saving some of the many lives that are lost due to drunk driving. Although these vehicles won’t be the norm for a few decades to come, car manufacturers and tech companies are making progress towards their adoption each day. For future college students, this could mean safer driving habits and decreased risk throughout their school years.

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