Volvo - which makes what many consider one of the 'safer' cars - is pressing hard for federal guidelines for autonomous (or driver-free) vehicles. Volvo says 90% of accidents are due to driver error, which is not surprising. They don't say, exactly, that crash-avoidance technologies will avoid all accidents, but they imply that with a proper infrastructure, an autonomously-driven world will be a safer one. And, Volvo says, a more fuel-efficient one.
The Swedish car company is urging the United States to adopt a 'seamless' (and federal) framework for autonomous driving. At home, Volvo has done lots of testing of autonomously-driven vehicles - its original autonomous vehicle has more than 300,000 miles on it - and says some early systems could be ready for U.S. streets in 2014, less than two years from now.
Volvo is working actively on introducing two types of autonomous systems - 'traffic jam' technology that will allow for a lead vehicle to have a queue of drivers behind going up to 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph), and 'platooning' in which a string of cars automatically drives behind a lead vehicle, going up to 90 kilometers per hour.
"Autonomous driving has the potential for improving road safety, traffic flow and fuel economy. To make this happen it is important to avoid a patchwork of various state regulations, " said Peter Mertens, a senior vice president of research and development at Volvo, in a press release.
Volvo is worried that certain states might limit autonomous systems, impacting the company's investment in the technology. In addition, Volvo has a goal it is working toward, of zero fatal car crashes involving Volvo vehicles by 2020.
The traffic jam assistance technology is part of what the company calls Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), which the Volvo car company is betting big on, depending upon these different autonomous systems to account for a large part of its sales growith.
Traffic jam assistance (unlike some Google technologies) cannot read signs or recognize stop lights - and drivers can re-take control of the vehicle at any time. Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac are all working on versions of the technology.