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Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Says Driver-less Cars Will Save Lives, But Not Yet

Andy Schaudt is the Project Director for the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Andy Schaudt is the Project Director for the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

 

The National Transportation Safety Board says since 2000, more Americans have died in car crashes than in both World Wars, and most of the accidents involved speeding, drunken or distracted drivers.  But Virginia Tech is pioneering research on cars that don’t need drivers.

According to Andy Schaudt with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, driver-less cars could possibly save lives. 

“What we found through our studies is that for the most part, it is driver distraction, visual distraction, inattention, drowsiness that are really the dominating factor here," Schaudt said. "If you are a self-driving car, what happens is that you no longer only have two eyes, you have hundreds of eyes looking in all directions."

Schaudt said Tesla and others are close, but it's not here yet.

“It’s an evolution, not a revolution as a lot of the media is pushing it to be. This is very hard to do well. It is very difficult to go ahead and take the human from the loop completely, because we are very good at certain things, such as reacting to certain situations when they occur,” Schaudt said. 

But Schaudt said self-driving cars may not have a significant, immediate impact on saving lives. 

“Being able to get to that 100 percent fatality reduction is something I don’t see happening for us in our lifetimes, because we’ll have a mixed fleet and we’ll see manual drivers still falling into some of that human error that occurs,” Schaudt said.

Tech has been doing research on automated vehicle systems for 20 years and Schaudt predicts the first real self-driving vehicles will be robotaxis. He said that could happen as early as next year. 

“So let’s imagine It would be in Washington DC in about a ten-square block area,” said Schaudt.