Driverless cars are the future. And that future is still years away. In the meantime, consumers can experience the building blocks of driverless cars, which are already on the market as “driver assist” features. These systems allow our vehicles to park for us, steer for us, gas for us and brake for us. Our sedans can tell us when a car is in our blind spot. Our SUVS can alert us to cross-traffic when we’re backing out. Safety officials are anxious to emphasize that the drivers are still responsible, no matter how much slack the car picks up. But these days, they can pick up quite a bit.
For years, these systems were for top-of-the-line buyers only. Now they’re going mainstream, being offered on cars like Ford Fusions and Honda Accords that can be driven off the lot for about $30,000. Some features are marketed as a convenience (Relax in traffic jams!) and others are touted as safety enhancers (The car will brake when you’re not looking!). The question is how much safer they actually make drivers–and whether they run the risk of debilitating consumers who come to depend on them.
Click here to read Katy Steinmetz’s new story about semiautonomous cars.