I pondered erratic driver behavior during a recent drive on a two-lane Washington highway. It could have been in any state or on any highway, since certain ill-advised, unexplained driver actions seem to surface everywhere.
The crazy act I endured for over ten miles was perpetrated by the driver in the vehicle following me. As I remained on cruise control at the 60 mile per hour limit, the trailing offender repeatedly drove to within a half-a-car-length followed by a retreat to a following distance of several car lengths.
As if attached to me via bungee cord, the driver dropped way back, then sprang up close, then back, over and over and over again.
Then, a somewhat comforting thought came to mind. When autonomous vehicles hit the roadways, without humans in control, that sort of erratic driving will become obsolete.
Instead of that slingshot-like following procedure, a self-driving car will maintain a steady speed and constant distance — or pass when safe. That may sound simple, but it’s a minority of humans who are able to accomplish it.
And autonomous cars won’t exceed the speed limit. That will put a damper on enforcement revenue, but it will go far to improve safety. Excess speed and speed variance among vehicles is a leading cause of accidents.
Another error that self-driving cars won’t commit is crossing the center line into oncoming traffic. That happens on a regular basis with human drivers who are prone to distraction, sleep or inattention. Resulting head on collisions are often fatal, so reducing them is worthwhile.
Self-drivers won’t change lanes when another vehicle is already there either — or attempt a merge into traffic when there is not room to do so. Obviously, humans commonly do both. Vehicles often “sideswipe” one another — autonomous operation will prohibit it.
Following too closely to allow adequate time to stop behind another vehicle in an emergency is another major accident cause. When vehicles control themselves, with no aggression or time issues, proper and constant distance behind will be the norm, eliminating the rear end collisions that are now rampant.
In our rural areas, it is not atypical for a driver to pull onto a highway from an adjoining road or driveway and lose their life from a “T-bone” collision. A self-driving vehicle is programmed with the “knowledge,” “vision,” “attention” and “patience” to proceed at a safe moment. Avoiding such mayhem will certainly be a positive side-effect of autonomous cars and trucks.
Self-driving vehicles will not stay continuously in the left-hand lanes of multi-lane freeways, nor will they make turns without signaling intent to do so. They won’t fail to dim high beam headlamps for oncoming traffic and when following behind others. They won’t use fog lights unless they encounter fog.
They will not proceed into an intersection and block cross traffic when there is insufficient room on the other side.
Left-turning self-driving cars will properly yield to oncoming traffic going straight through an intersection instead of believing that they have the right of way because they got there first.
Autonomous models will take “free” right-hand turns upon red light indications when cross traffic allows. In fact, they will take “free” left hand turns not only from a one-way street to a one-way street, but also the legally allowed left-on-red from a two-way to a one-way street when traffic is clear enough to accomplish it. Few humans will do that.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.