Driverless Cars: What they Are and What they Are Not

I’m realizing that I’m writing about driverless cars and yet I haven’t explicitly defined them. Driverless cars, or autonomous cars or self-driving cars, are all referring to the same thing (side note: I’m focusing my research on passenger cars; however, the definition applies to trucks as well). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines autonomous vehicles as follows: “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip.” Autonomous vehicles can be occupied or not.

Everything about that definition may seem extremely obvious; however, autonomous vehicles are often confused with other similar technologies:

  • Vehicles with function-specific automation, or vehicles that have one or even a few functions that are automatic. Examples include self-parking assist, cruise control, etc.;
  • Connected vehicles, or vehicles that rely on information from other vehicles (V2V) or infrastructure (V2I);
  • Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), or any other vehicle that relies on fixed guideway
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), which are aircraft that are not necessarily autonomous

I’d like to give an Autonomous Vehicles 101 session to all of the media outlets so these don’t keep getting mixed up!

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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