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Answers to important questions about self-driving cars

by | Jul 28, 2021 | Car Accidents |

There’s no car dealership in Alameda County – or anywhere else in the Bay Area or any other part of California – that is today selling an autonomous vehicle. There are no self-driving vehicles available anywhere in the U.S. or any other country.

But the future promised by autonomous vehicles – no more auto accidents, no more traffic congestion, no more emissions dirtying the sky – is nevertheless tantalizing. And at the same time, it’s frightening. We know from news reports that testing of the self-driving vehicles in development has more than once ended in a violent crash.

The combination of thrills and dread that news of self-driving vehicles generate prompted Motor Trend magazine to check in on the development progress of the technology.

The publication answered a series of commonly asked questions that began with this one: “How Much Does A Self-Driving Car Cost?” According to former Waymo CEO John Krafcik, the likely cost of the initial release of autonomous vehicles will be around $130,000. But costs will drop as the equipment (cameras, sensors, radar systems, advanced automotive computers) is scaled for mass-market sales.

“Can I Buy A Self-Driving Car Now?”

Short answer: No.

Even cars equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot system are not actually autonomous. They can appear to be self-driving because drivers can take their hands off of the steering wheel in certain limited circumstances, “but they are not reliable or capable enough to be true self-driving.” Tesla cars are today at Level 2, far short of Level 5 vehicles that will be truly autonomous.

“What Are These Automated Driving Levels I Keep Hearing About?”

Courtesy of the Society of Automotive Engineers, here are the six levels of automation:

  • Level 0: a traditional vehicle with no driving assistance of any kind.
  • Level 1: has a driver assistance feature such as cruise control.
  • Level 2: the vehicle can at times control steering as well as acceleration and braking, but a person must be in the driver’s seat ready to take over at any time.
  • Level 3: vehicles have “environmental detection” and will be able to accelerate and steer past a slow-moving vehicle, for instance, but will still require someone ready to take control.
  • Level 4: cars will be self-driving in most circumstances, but a person will still have the option to override steering, braking, deceleration.
  • Level 5: full automation. The vehicles won’t have steering wheels, brakes or accelerators.

“When Can I Buy A Self-Driving Car In The Future?”

While the self-driving technology is in development, it’s not nearly ready to take over the nearly 300 million vehicles in the U.S. Motor Trend expects Level 3 vehicles within the next five years, but there are still a lot of problems to solve before we see levels 4 or 5 plying the streets of the Bay Area.