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Will Google cars be on the road in five years?

2020. five years from now. That's the date that Google claims they will have self-driving cars on the streets and highways. While some within the automotive industry claim that autonomous vehicles will be held back because of regulation, Google's head of their self-driving car project believes such concerns are "overblown."

Google is working with safety regulators, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards. The agency has not issued any regulations that specifically apply to autonomous vehicles, but it is expected that they are working on regulations that could be needed to deal with the special concerns such vehicles would raise.

The 2020 date is earlier than some in the industry had expected, and this week, some carmakers announced that they had been in discussions with Google concerning the manufacturing of their self-driving vehicles.

Google's head of the of the project notes the vehicles will not be "crashproof," but safety concerns still will be write large for these vehicles. Fears, ranging from computer-controlled cars running down pedestrians in crosswalks to worries of fleets of hacked cars running amuck will all need to be overcome to obtain significant consumer acceptance.

Nevertheless, the need remains great. While many safety features have led to reductions in car accidents and traffic fatalities, there is still much work to do. in 2013, 32,719 deaths were attributed to car accidents. Costs associated with these accidents is estimated to approach $900 billon every year.

Many accidents are the result of human error, included drunk, distracted and drowsy driving. Even if autonomous vehicles are not perfect, it is likely that they could significantly reduce the number of accidents that occur. 2020 cannot come too fast.

The Wall Street Journal, "Google Sees Self-Driving Car on Road Within Five Years," Christina Rogers, January 14, 2014

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