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Autonomous cars well developed; safety research needs fine tuning

As tech giant Google continues to test its self-driving vehicles on various states' highways, the final hurdles to complete safety and vehicle autonomy are coming under the microscope. Most regulators consider autonomous vehicles to be the next evolutionary step in personal transportation, and a revolution that will reduce traffic deaths in the United States. A number of tech-based safety features have been integrated into vehicles in the last few years, and car accident fatalities in Ohio and nationally have declined for six straight years.

Those safety features have helped pave the way for a fully autonomous vehicle, and the hope among the vehicle's designers is that it can ultimately be a better driver than humans, employing quicker reaction times and a greater awareness of the road. One challenge will be integrating autonomous vehicles onto roadways shared with vehicles controlled by people.

And the integration of autonomous vehicles will be carefully managed. Even fully self-driving vehicles will need to be manned with an awake individual for at least the next 10 to 20 years, according to one research and development executive. It's expected that even after their release, the technology used in autonomous vehicles will be tweaked and further developed over time to better reduce car crash rates and make the vehicles smarter -- and safer.

Down the road, it's hoped that vehicles will be able to connect with one another and communicate on roadways, allowing for more seamless transportation and fewer accidents as a result.

Ultimately, auto manufacturers are hopeful that the introduction of autonomous vehicles will start contributing greatly to the prevention of deaths among the driving public by 2020.

Source: Bloomberg, "Driverless cars future sends Google, U.S. to figure rules," Angela Greiling Keane, Oct. 23, 2012

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