ODOT: Self-driving cars could prevent 80% of human error crashes

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Any time there is an accident involving a self-driving car it makes headlines.

The unknown is scary. For most of us autonomous driving is the unknown.

Before we can explain who's tracking these programs in Ohio, you have to have a little understanding of the five levels of autonomous cars as set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

Currently only level two vehicles are being sold publicly.

These are vehicles that have a version of autopilot but just for the highway.

They don't drive on city streets, they don't make turns and they don't change lanes on their own.

In a level two vehicle a driver must still be alert, and has to take the wheel for the majority of tasks like lane changes.

There are some companies like UBER and Google who are testing level three vehicles that use mapping software, cameras and sensors to drive on city streets including turns, stopping and accelerating but a driver can take over if needed.

Governor John Kasich, and ODOT is now trying to attract level three and above companies to test in the state.

A level four would not require any interaction in a vehicle getting from point A to B, but there is still a steering wheel, gas and break pedals.

Level five is completely autonomous. In the case of a level five there won't even be a steering wheel or gas and break pedals. We are decades away from level five.

This video from Cadillac shows us the latest level two vehicle with what they are calling Super Cruise.

A car that can handle itself on the highway, but still needs a driver. Think of it as cruise control that steers to keep you in one lane. This system even can tell when the driver isn't paying attention.

"Proprietary heard tracking software helps make sure your eyes are on the road and if not visual alerts and vibrating seat reminders signal you to grab the wheel," the Cadillac promotional video states.

So no you can't take a nap, read a book or work on a computer. Not yet.

Tracking the progress of self-driving cars in our state is the responsibility of ODOT.

Last week Governor Kasich signed an executive order opening up the state for companies to test level three vehicles and above.

"Why is the state so interested in getting into the autonomous driving industry?" Cleveland 19 reporter Dan DeRoos asked of Erika Hawkins, ODOT's Director of Communications.

"Technology is allowing us to make vehicles move around safer than ever before by taking the human error factor out of the equation," Hawkins said.

While you might be worried about a computer driving next to you, ODOT wants you to consider this.

According to ODOT in 2016 there were 300,000 crashes on Ohio roads and 94 percent were caused by driver error.

Research suggests self-driving cars could have prevented 80 percent of those crashes.

"Help me, help our viewers feel safe about having these kinds of vehicles on the road," DeRoos asked.

"The potential of saving tens of thousands of lives annually by reducing the number of fatal crashes on our roadways in the United States is literally going to be life changing for some people," Hawkins said.

Testing is still in the early stages and there have been a couple of deaths.

This past March in Arizona a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving Uber while crossing a dark street, not in a cross walk. Investigators said this accident would have been tough for even a human driver to prevent.

Video: Self-driving Uber car that killed woman had safety driver

"We understand that there, this technology has a ways to go. But it can't get there unless it has the opportunity to work the bugs out," Hawkins said.

Any testing of vehicle level three and above, in Ohio will have strict guidelines.

Including companies explaining how their vehicles work to ODOT, how the vehicle can stop itself if there's a computer error, and where and when they will be tested in the state and agree to be complete open with investigators if there's an accident.

"We believe we're a great place for it. We have such a wonderful mix of urban, rural, flat, hilly, every season you can think of we get it here," Hawkins said.

When Governor Kasich signed his executive order last week he put in an interesting provision.

No city can decide on its own to ban the testing of these vehicles.

Meaning if, and when, companies come to Ohio to test it could be in your community.

Who will be safer?

You or the computer?

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