Self-driving (or fully autonomous / automated) vehicles will not require any driver input and will have the ability to navigate independently. Using on-board sensors and evaluation equipment, they will have a 360-degree view of their surroundings at all times.
Removing the driver from the equation will also reduce the element of human error in driving, which is the cause in 90% of all accidents today. A self-driving car simply will not hold a mobile phone behind the wheel nor will it exceed speed limits or drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Indeed, it is estimated that the large-scale introduction of self-driving vehicles can significantly reduce the number of road accidents. As these vehicles come equipped with sophisticated on-board sensors, cameras, GPS, radar and safety systems, they will also be able to drastically reduce the impact of any remaining accidents.
Automated vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)
Self-driving vehicles are unlikely to be widely available before 2030. However, over the span of just a few years, we have already seen the commercial introduction of vehicles with increasing degrees of partial automation. These automated vehicles are now able to perform an increasing number of driving tasks in specific scenarios, such as automatic parking and highway pilot.
Likewise, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) can already take over safety-critical functions (such as steering and braking) from the driver under certain circumstances. Active safety measures such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane keeping assistance (LKA) are examples of (partially-automated) ADAS technology helping to avoid human error and prevent accidents that are in-use today.
ADAS will also play a crucial role in the medium-term to prepare drivers and other road users for the reality of cars taking over control from drivers, as we gradually move towards fully automated vehicles.
In addition to the development of (partially) automated vehicles, there is also a surge in making use of connectivity and information-sharing to further improve road safety. Exchanging safety-critical information between nearby vehicles and infrastructure makes it possible to drive down the number of accidents and casualties.
So-called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) are increasingly facilitating networking between connected vehicles and their surroundings. C-ITS can detect the flow of traffic, its speed and density. Using this information it is possible to impose variable speed limits, to determine whether to open or close traffic lanes and to help avert accidents.
Construction workers, for example, can automatically inform approaching traffic of a temporary speed limit and hazards on the road ahead can be flagged by the police.