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How Will We Pass the Time on Autonomous Drives?

Rainy day in the car window with a glass of hot coffee and a book | Pass the Time on Autonomous Drives

With safe, everyday use of autonomous vehicles still at least a few years away, a recent poll shows U.S. drivers are already figuring out how they’ll pass the time on autonomous drives.

Harris Poll recently gauged the thoughts of 3,000 U.S. drivers to determine what they most dream about getting to do with the free time their self-driving vehicles will give them. “Dream” being the operative word there. Commissioned by Erie Insurance, the study shows that dreaming is exactly what 51 percent of drivers want to do as they catch up on much-needed sleep. Or at the very least, not worry about the consequences of drowsy or inattentive driving, especially on long drives.

Probably not surprising, more screen time topped the list for many drivers with 34 percent hoping to text more, 27 percent looking forward to reading, and 11 percent wanting to play video games. Two percent of drivers polled even anticipate being able to work out while their vehicles deliver them safely to their destinations.

Despite years of significant reductions in traffic fatalities, the number increased to 38,300 in 2015- the most recent year for which exact figures are known. An additional 4.4 million people were injured in accidents even though automobiles have never had so many safety features and crash deterrents.

An improved economy could be the reason for the increases, according to experts. Lower gas prices and more people driving to work, combined with increased distracted driving equals more opportunities for collisions. When questioned about the risks associated with distracted driving, 59 percent of poll respondents said they think autonomous vehicles can make the roads safer by eliminating this dangerous behavior.

Further Reading: Interesting Car Color Facts You Might Find Surprising

In a small way, perhaps cars currently on the market can begin to make a positive impact. Vehicles such as the Volvo S90, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Tesla Model S have available safety features that allow them to steer themselves and maintain lane discipline on the highway, making the idea of self-driving cars seem like more of a reality.

While technology has come a long way toward eliminating the human error factor, experts warn against drivers becoming lackadaisical and not paying attention to what’s going on around them.

The most recent Uber accident in Arizona is a perfect case in point. One of the company’s self-driving cars was flipped onto its side when an on-coming vehicle that should have yielded, refused to give way.

The accident highlights the amount of work needed to be done to help resolve the issues that crop up when autonomous vehicles interact with the ones driven by humans. The incident also brought to light the issue of transparency and liability- just who is at fault when a self-driving vehicle is in an accident.

John M. Simpson, Privacy Director for Consumer Watchdog, the U.S. not-for-profit public interest group, is concerned. He supports full transparency and responsibility for autonomous vehicle manufacturers and developers when self-driving technology fails.

To prepare for the eventual influx of autonomous cars in the future, many states have already begun to enact legislation. In 2017, 32 states introduced legislation and in 2016 20 states introduced legislation. In 12 states, legislation related to autonomous cars actually passed – however Colorado was not one of them. In Arizona and Massachusetts, governors issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles. In the near future, it is likely that more states will follow suit.

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