The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Business & Technology

October 23, 2013

Leaving the driving to a computer has big benefits

(Continued)

For example, the passenger compartment may be transformed as former drivers safely work on laptops, eat meals, read books, watch movies and call friends. And cars that can be programmed to pick up people, drive them to their destination and then park by themselves may change the lives of the elderly and disabled by providing critical mobility.

Once a critical mass of self-driving cars is on the road, they can start “platooning” — driving closely together but keeping a steady distance between each other without the fuel-burning, time-wasting, stop-and-go typical of traffic congestion.

Government research indicates driver error is likely the main reason behind over 90 percent of all crashes. More than 40 percent of fatal traffic crashes involve alcohol, distraction, drugs or fatigue. But self-driven vehicles wouldn’t fall prey to such human failings, suggesting the potential for at least a 40 percent reduction in fatal crashes, the study said.

Crashes can also be due to speeding, aggressive driving, over-compensation, inexperience, slow reaction times, inattention and various other human driver shortcomings, the report noted, suggesting that computers could also reduce those.

But Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Auto Safety, cautioned that while self-driving cars hold great promise for reducing accidents caused by driver error, much will depend upon the safety standards the government sets for the vehicles and how well manufacturers make them.

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