Do Self-driving Cars Mean Safer Storms?
Guest Post by Lucy Wyndham
Can autonomous vehicles reduce Weather-related accidents? Research indicates yes.
Every day, inclement weather adversely impacts driver safety around the globe. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 1,259,000 accidents (22% of all total accidents) each year are attributed to inclement weather conditions. Slippery surfaces (caused by rain, snow, and ice) and reduced visibility are the primary factors that contribute to these crashes. While there will always be less than favorable driving conditions in every part of the world, technology is rapidly changing the safety of venturing out into such conditions.
The advancement of autonomous vehicles in recent years is nothing less than astonishing. Companies such as Uber, Lyft, Google, Tesla, and BMW are all testing these vehicles, and have announced plans to release this technology to the public. As testing continues, one of the biggest questions is whether or not these autonomous vehicles will be able to handle extreme weather conditions. To see if self-driving vehicles have the potential to eliminate weather-related accidents, explore some of the most current research available.
Reasons that driving in inclement weather is so hazardous
Although poor driving conditions make it much easier to get into an accident, driver error is frequently the ultimate cause of weather-related accidents. In fact, in a recent study of accidents in the UK, it was estimated that over 65% of all fatal vehicle accidents are due to driver error. Behaviors such as failing to drive an appropriate speed for conditions, not applying the brakes quickly enough, and distracted driving are just some of the errors that make extreme weather driving even more dangerous.
How can current autonomous vehicles handle poor driving conditions?
While the research and tests look promising, there are still obstacles that need to be tackled by current self-driving vehicles. Some of the latest autonomous vehicle prototypes have been able to successfully tackle driving through heavy rain at night. These vehicles are also getting much better at navigating through reduced visibility, and learning when to pull over if driving conditions become too harsh. However, companies are still working through challenges such as driving through the snow. The remote sensing technology used on self-driving vehicles does not have the capabilities to navigate roads in the snow. Instead, high-resolution 3D maps are being utilised to help autonomous vehicles navigate snowy conditions.
Looking to the future
Even though self-driving cars are not yet able to handle the most adverse weather conditions with complete reliability, the future of autonomous vehicles looks quite promising. The world is closer than ever before to experiencing driving at its safest. With human error removed from the equation, accidents attributed to weather-related conditions and/or driver error will likely be significantly reduced, and one day, nearly completely eliminated.