Will Autonomous Vehicles Make Roads Safer?

Semi on interstateWhen it comes to quality cars, Germany has dominated for decades with its luxury brands, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. It is no surprise then that they are at the forefront of the race to create an autonomous vehicle that will propel us, on “Highway Pilot,” into the future.

While here in our own hub of innovation on the West Coast, Google is touting its driverless car, claiming its release to be just around the corner (within five years or so), German engineers are more conservative (and perhaps realistic) with their projections. Due to the many technological and legal kinks that have yet to be worked out, they see such a drastic shift taking place in twice that time.

As an NY Times article from last year pointed out, BMW executives admit that their longtime slogan “Freude am Fahren” which means the joy of driving does not always ring true. Leave it to the wealthy German business men and women to look at the act of driving from an efficiency standpoint and to see all the time that could be gained by turning the task over to automation.

But regardless of who will win the race to an autonomous car—the “data-driven engineers” of Germany or the “visionaries of Silicon Valley”—the ball is rolling and the move is coming.

In July, Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, tested the company’s Future Truck 2025, a semi-automated semi, on the A14 autobahn near Madgeburg, Germany. The truck still requires a human driver to start it and enter into the flow of traffic, but once it reaches a speed of 50 mph the truck offers the option of kicking into Highway Pilot and allowing the driver to slip aside into the passenger seat and take care of other business.

As a truck accident attorney, I am very interested in this evolution. Could driverless cars be an answer to the serious traffic safety issues of today? Could the Future Truck 2025 have prevented the recent accident involving Tracy Morgan and the sleep-deprived Wal-Mart truck driver? Only time will tell if these pieces of genius will live up to their promises and effectively reduce human error.

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