Self-Driving Cars

February 1, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 5
Can they make roads safer and less congested?
By Stephen Ornes


Cars that ferry passengers around cities and down highways without the need for a human driver are being tested in an increasing number of locations around the world, fueling predictions that computers will someday replace people behind the wheel. Proponents say autonomous vehicles will revolutionize transportation and virtually eliminate traffic deaths. But many experts say the industry will need decades to overcome technological, ethical and other challenges, including a common perception that self-driving cars are unsafe. Meanwhile, some traffic experts challenge a major rationale for self-driving cars: that they will reduce gridlock. Skeptics contend that widespread private ownership of autonomous vehicles could actually make congestion worse if the vehicles spend hours a day running errands or traveling empty. Legislation to regulate the industry stalled in Congress last year, but federal transportation officials and some states have adopted permissive policies that encourage driverless car companies to innovate rapidly. Other countries, meanwhile, are racing to develop driverless car technology, with China pursuing a particularly ambitious timetable.

Children and parked cars (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Michaela Handrek-Rehle)
Children and parked cars appear in different colors on the monitor inside an autonomous Mercedes-Benz as it drives itself down a street in Immendingen, Germany. Most self-driving cars being tested today have safety drivers who can take the wheel in an emergency. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Michaela Handrek-Rehle)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jun. 19, 2020  Fuel Efficiency Standards
Feb. 01, 2019  Self-Driving Cars
Feb. 17, 2017  Reducing Traffic Deaths
Jul. 25, 2014  Future of Cars
Feb. 06, 2009  Auto Industry's Future Updated
May 16, 2003  SUV Debate
Oct. 26, 2001  Auto Safety
Jan. 21, 2000  Auto Industry's Future
Jul. 25, 1997  Aggressive Driving
Oct. 16, 1992  U.S. Auto Industry
Apr. 27, 1990  Curbing Auto-Insurance Premiums
Jul. 14, 1989  Automakers Face Trouble Down the Road
Aug. 31, 1984  U.S. Auto Industry: Strategies for Survival
Feb. 23, 1979  Auto Research and Regulation
Apr. 28, 1978  Automotive Safety
May 10, 1974  Auto Industry in Flux
Apr. 18, 1973  Auto Emission Controls
Jan. 13, 1971  Auto Insurance Reform
Jul. 27, 1966  Fortunes of Auto Industry
Jun. 04, 1965  Automobile Safety
Jul. 10, 1964  Automobile Insurance and Traffic Safety
Nov. 19, 1958  Small Cars
Apr. 17, 1957  Better Driving
Jul. 01, 1954  Competition in Automobiles
Mar. 23, 1954  Automobile Liability Insurance
Dec. 24, 1952  Highway Accidents: Causes and Remedies
Aug. 21, 1945  Automobiles in the Postwar Economy
Sep. 02, 1938  The Market for Automobiles
Oct. 26, 1932  Outlook for the Automobile Industry
Dec. 10, 1929  Condition of the Automobile Industry
Jan. 30, 1928  Automobile Fatalities and Compulsory Insurance
Dec. 10, 1927  The Status of the Automobile Trade
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Motor Traffic and Roads
Motor Traffic Safety
Motor Vehicle Industry
Motor Vehicles
Public Transportation
Regulation and Deregulation