How close are autonomous cars?

February 24, 2023
Editor, Canadian auto dealer magazine

While data seems to prove self-driving cars are safer, we’re still quite a ways away, says expert Chris Piche

While it would certainly be wonderful to have your vehicle pick you up at your front door, then take you safely to your destination while you work, watch a movie or have a snooze, it turns out that despite Elon Musk’s promises, we’re not there yet, nor very close. So how close are we to truly autonomous vehicles, and what can auto dealers tell customers about when they will be able to procure one, so they can give up the steering wheel forever?

Autonomy can be measured in levels. According to AI and autonomous driving technology-savvy expert Chris Piche, the Founder of Smarter AI, a leader in AI cameras and enablement software, “The most common definitions that people use are level two, level four and level five. So I think there are, there are many systems today which are operating at level two, and that’s basically, you know, some level of assistance for cruising and parking.” Piche, who owns a Tesla with Full Self-Driving mode, put Tesla’s autonomy level at a four.

“The degree to which it can assist you varies based on the complexity of the driving situation. You know, straight roads, left turns, right turns, simple lane changes it does perfectly, 99 per cent of the time. But if you’re talking about more complicated scenarios, it’s, it’s probably, only 50 per cent self-driving.”

“The degree to which it can assist you varies based on the complexity of the driving situation.”
— Chris Piche, Founder of Smarter AI

Tesla is not the only OEM working on autonomous driving capabilities, but the fact that it already has a beta version on the road is giving it a big advantage in terms of gathering data for its systems. “There are several companies that are working on autonomous driving. Tesla is much further along in terms of actual deployment of self-driving technology than any of its competitors. And that in itself, just being further along, is a competitive advantage because the more you deploy it, the more data you collect, the smarter it becomes.”

Cars are going to have to communicate with each other, as well as infrastructure for autonomous vehicles to really take time, and that is going to take more connected vehicles on the road. “We’re probably some number of decades away from level five,” said Piche. “It requires, in my opinion, some additional technology above what we have now in single vehicles—what are known as V to V or V to X technologies. So the ability for one vehicle to communicate with other vehicles and ability for vehicles to communicate with traffic infrastructure, like traffic signals, intersections, and vice versa.” 

So, we’ve heard quite a bit about Teslas in self-driving mode crashing on the news, and of course the resulting lawsuits. What impact is this going to have on the adoption of this technology?

“Self-driving is much safer than human driving,” said Piche. “The difference is, if you and I are driving our Fords or Chevys and we get into a little fender bender, that’s never gonna make the news. But when there’s a Tesla autopilot or Tesla full self-driving which is allegedly involved in an accident or responsible for an accident, it makes front page news. This is an instance where there’s a huge difference between the press coverage or the amplification of the media coverage and the actual number and severity of the collisions. Tesla has tons of data to support, and their competitors have lots of data to support that their systems are safer than human drivers.”

Safer driving means lower insurance as well—at least in the United States. “In Tesla’s case, they’ve even put their money where their mouth is, because customers, at least in the United States, can now buy their auto insurance from Tesla,” said Piche. “And the cheapest auto insurance that you can get in the United States by far is if you’ve subscribed to the Tesla full self-driving. And if you actually use it, based on my personal experience, your insurance cost is roughly half of what you would get from Allstate or somebody like that. And the reason why Tesla’s able to do that is because their system is involved in less collisions and less damaging collisions.”

Piche is obviously pro the technology. It does seem like if every car on the road was not subject to human whims and bad decisions we would have much safer roads. But while it’s still a mix, and it will be for some time, there are bound to be a few bumps.

“I think there’s fairly incontrovertible evidence that full self-driving even, you know, to the extent that it’s used today, those cars that use the full self-driving technology are involved in fewer accidents and they certainly cause fewer accidents than cars without the technology.”

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