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Driverless cars: The future is now!

The widespread adoption of driverless vehicles promises more roadway efficiency, less accidents due to distracted driving, and greater access to motor vehicles for people of all ages and abilities.

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The widespread adoption of driverless vehicles promises greater roadway efficiency, fewer accidents due to distracted driving, and greater access to motor vehicles for people of all ages and abilities. Several legal, infrastructure, and consumer issues provide obstacles for their proliferation, but the development and implementation of autonomous cars is revving into high gear.

From Dream to Reality: A Brief History

Several key developments have paved the way for autonomous cars throughout the last 100 years.

  •    1939 — The concept of the autonomous vehicle gains exposure at GM’s Futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair.
  •    1958 — Chevrolet tests a vehicle that can sense the current of a wire in the road and steer itself.
  •    1977 — The first truly autonomous car debuts in Japan and uses cameras and analog computing to process   signals.
  •    1987-1995 — Several cars are tested across varying distances in Europe. The projects direct research toward vision-based technologies rather than signal-based ones.
  • 2004 — The first Grand Challenge is held, with 15 autonomous vehicles competing in a 150-mile challenge to promote development of autonomous cars.
  •    2010 — The Google Driverless Car program begins to rack up more than 140,000 miles with a fleet of autonomous Toyota Prius hybrids.
  •    2011 — The state of Nevada approves the first law allowing driverless vehicles. Other U.S. states begin to introduce legislation.
  •    2012 — Major automakers including Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, GM, Volvo, and others are testing autonomous technologies and fully autonomous cars with the intention of mass production in the future.

The Varying Degrees of Automotive Autonomy

Motorists don’t have to turn over total control to computers. Several emerging technologies, such as the following, could offer options for partially autonomous vehicles:-

  • Emergency Assist
  • Only activates during emergencies
  • Speed Assist
  • Recognizes speed limit signs and adjusts speed
  • Traffic Assist
  • Steers, guards distance between vehicles, and stops
  • Fully Autonomous
  • Accelerates, brakes, and steers with no human interaction

    Consumer Interest Is Limited by Cost

    According to a survey by J.D. Power and Associates, more than a third of motorists would use a vehicle with autonomous technology, but that percentage drops when the cost is involved.

    • 37% of motorists said they would purchase autonomous technologies in their next vehicle.
    • After learning the estimated market price (£1,872 or $3,000), 20% of motorists said they would purchase autonomous technologies in their next vehicle.

    Motorists Want It All

    Additional findings from the J.D. Power and Associates report suggest that motorists want options when it comes to driverless cars.

    • Motorists want the autonomous option during routine or “boring” driving, such as commutes to work, motorway driving, or parking. BUT

    • Motorists want control of the vehicle for pleasure trips and manual maneuvering.

      The Road Ahead

      Legal obstacles, consumer trust, and infrastructure hurdles will be barriers to widespread adoption, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that autonomous vehicles will account for 75 per cent of cars on the road by 2040. Here’s what the IEEE envisions for the future of driverless vehicles;

      • Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication lets traffic flow more freely and without the use of traffic lights.
      • Autonomous and traditional vehicles would have their own lanes to limit congestion and allow for faster travel speeds.
      • Car-sharing programs would become more prevalent as autonomous vehicles could arrive at destination and then be used by other passengers.
      • Driverless cars would allow people of all ages and abilities to use the vehicles and would thus eliminate the need for a driver’s licence.


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