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Autonomous cars could transform driving

While no laws have been passed in Wisconsin for the regulation and licensing of autonomous cars, they are already being tested in several states. According to government research, about 90 percent of crashes are caused by driver error, with about 40 percent of fatal crashes caused by such things as intoxication and fatigue. Because computers are immune to such circumstances, increasing the number of autonomous cars on the road is expected to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and their related expenses.

According to the Eno Center for Transportation, if only 10 percent of the cars in use were autonomous, traffic deaths could be reduced by 1,000 per year and up to $38 billion could be saved. The agency added that up to 21,700 lives could be saved if 90 percent of cars were autonomous. An increased number of these vehicles on the road could also lead to reduced traffic congestion and faster commute times, as these vehicles can anticipate the others' movements and drive closer together.

While fully autonomous cars are still in the testing stages, many features on these vehicles are already available in luxury vehicles. Some cars have collision avoidance systems that can automatically brake when they approach another vehicle while others can be programmed to park themselves. The equipment for these vehicles is expensive, with fully autonomous cars costing in excess of $100,000 each. However, it is hoped that increasing popularity and large-scale production will reduce the cost over time, allowing these vehicles to become commonplace.

Some questions have arisen regarding liability in the event of a car accident, such as whether the programming led to the accident or if the driver should be held accountable. Some individuals have also expressed concern about hacking the vehicles' computers. When liability cannot be determined, a professional might assess the official accident report.

Source: Spokesman-Review, "Computer-driven cars could significantly reduce deaths, study says", Joan Lowy, October 23, 2013

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