I have no idea how long it will take for a safe, fully autonomous vehicle to enter production. I am sure that it will take a lot longer than the experts are predicting.
But in the meantime, the industry is developing a large number of lifesaving devices and features, such as automatic braking, that are available on some vehicles.
When you consider how many people are killed in crashes in which a car runs into something such as a tree or another vehicle at a high speed, it's clear the addition of automatic braking could save thousands of lives every year.
More vehicles are being sold with automatic braking either standard or as part of optional safety packages, but it should be on every vehicle sold in America.
If the government can mandate backup cameras, then it should be able to go beyond the industry's voluntary agreement to roll out automatic braking and mandate the technology as soon as possible.
Competition to develop and market a truly autonomous vehicle is fierce. To be able to produce something that can operate fully autonomously under all circumstances will no doubt take a decade or longer.
But on the trail to that objective, there are plenty of lifesaving additions that should be a part of every vehicle sold. The industry should be able to take advantage of all the new safety devices and features as they are validated. The driving public should not have to wait for a fully autonomous vehicle to get a taste of these technologies.
The development of a fully autonomous vehicle will be a gigantic step forward. But it will not happen overnight, which is one of the reasons why testing should be done at safe, reliable proving grounds to avoid inevitable malfunctions.
We don't want to see those mistakes happening on public streets and highways.
Autonomous vehicles will be revolutionary when they are perfected. Until then, it makes sense to keep them confined to the test track. Meanwhile, all of the individual safety devices should be made available to the driving public once they are proved worthy.
Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., which publishes Rubber & Plastics News.