Once a distant dream, driverless cars are now very much a reality. Several big-name manufacturers have been performing road tests and running diagnostics in the race to have the first autonomous vehicle ready for mass consumption. Just last month, new federal guidelines were announced that aim to help speed up the technology and get driverless cars on the road sooner. What does this mean for fleets and fleet managers? Well, there are a few components to consider:
The push for driverless cars comes from the desire and intent to eliminate all road accidents stemming from the largest contributing factor – human error. Motor coverage accounts for 42% of insurance premiums, worldwide. This accounts for about 90% of accidents. So, the theory is that if we cut out human error, i.e. the driver, the insurance needs will drop significantly. But we’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Whether you’re using semi- or fully autonomous cars, one true benefit is the ability to track and predict driver habits and trips. The internal telematics in these cars can eliminate the need for physical driver logs. They also offer a true recording; where humans may misrepresent their travel history – often unintentionally – the autonomous cars will provide an accurate record. This feature is useful for managers as it enables them to truly evaluate their fleet when it comes to driver performance and delivery/arrival times. This technology also allows managers to determine the level of inactivity and if vehicles could be shared amongst drivers. And sharing vehicles may even offset your fleet’s emissions.
The downside comes in the form of waiting. While vehicle manufacturers have already taken the plunge into technologies that help keep us safe, it is not clear when these autonomous cars will be consumer ready. In an attempt to speed up the progress and technology, the US Department of Transportation and the federal government have taken a hands-off approach. The new guidelines essentially tell car manufacturers to figure it out on their own. Mainstay manufacturers and luxury brands alike are testing out their own models, and Uber has started an autonomous car pilot project in Pittsburg.
While the reality of having driverless cars on the road is no longer just a fantasy, it seems we’re a little way off yet from having them fill your fleet. Karl Brauer with Kelly Blue Book says, "The time frame for privately owned, fully autonomous vehicles, capable of operating anywhere and anytime, remains at least seven to 10 years away." But as we all know, time flies in this business and the better prepared and informed we are today, the quicker we can make decisions and take action tomorrow.