Though it seems to be a dream born from science fiction, self-driving cars are both real and, according to a recent study conducted by the Eno Center for Transportation, better drivers than we are. Google has been experimenting with the idea of autonomous cars for several years now using an in-house program called Google Chauffeur. Though Google Chauffeur features a manual override that allows a human driver to take the wheel, it is a popular online factoid that Google cars have only suffered two accidents in its multiple years of testing; both of them due to human error.
The study concluded that self-driving cars were positively correlated with significantly reduced traffic deaths, major reductions in congestion and billions of dollars in economic savings. Self-driving cars representing a mere 10% of traffic could represent 100 less deaths per year and $38 billion a year in economic savings.
Despite the promising statistics, the technology is still in its infancy with the biggest barrier to consumers being cost. Installation of Google Chauffeur costs over $100,000, though the study concluded that production strategies would significantly lower that cost over time.
There are also many legal hurdles to be cleared before the technology sees mainstream use. Issues such as accident liability and defenses against hacking are still major unanswered questions. Hybrid and electric cars have also not sold as well as anticipated, indicating that the mainstream automobile market may be a hard one to break into. However, autonomous cars could represent a great step forward in mobility for those who cannot currently drive such as the elderly or the disabled.