An autonomous vehicle is defined as a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator. These "sensors" can include, without limitation, cameras, lasers and radar. In the past several years, autonomous vehicle designers and advocates have made significant steps towards integration into the transit system and, eventually, universal autonomous transportation. This technology can revolutionize the way we approach transportation and, according to Jim McBride of Ford Research and Innovation, "there is no technology barrier from going where we are now to the autonomous car. There are affordability issues, but the big barrier to overcome is customer acceptance." As autonomous vehicle advocates move closer to large-scale implementation, social factors will prove to be their largest obstacles, and they must look to the past for lessons on how to proceed.
Case Study: Lessons From the First Cars
The introduction of automobiles in the late 19th and early 20th century radically changed personal transportation. These "horseless carriages" were initially modeled after the carriages that people were already accustomed to. As people gradually overcame these mental models, automobiles evolved from the horse-and-buggy style into a design similar to modern vehicles. As automobiles evolved, so did their environment. The early days of automobiles included debates on whether cars should even be allowed on roads, since roads were for carriages and pedestrians. As the ubiquity of cars increased, entire infrastructures, both physical and legislative, had to adapt to the changes in transportation; Licenses and traffic control signals became necessary for safely operating vehicles. Much like the introduction of automobiles, the acceptance of autonomous cars embodies a drastic change in the mental models of transportation. People have been driving cars for over a century, and learning to surrender all control to electronics will likely be a transition rivaling the introduction the automobile itself.
Current Technology and Developments: 2019
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with the aid of the Society of Automotive Engineers, has published an system to rank vehicle autonomy, which classifies vehicles ranging from those that do nothing to help their drivers to those that don’t need drivers. According to the organization’s publication, it is obvious that there are vehicles with varying levels of autonomy on roads today. For example, automakers like Jeep and Toyota have released vehicles equipped with automated systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems.
Of the many automotive companies in the world, three notable ones looking to develop fully autonomous vehicles include General Motors, Tesla, Inc., and Waymo. GM looks to reduce the environmental harm caused by transportation by working to produce electric autonomous vehicles. Tesla has developed a feature called Tesla Autopilot that, according the NFTSA’s published levels of autonomy, operates with “partial automation;” the company is hopeful to develop software to support full autonomy in the future. Waymo, known formerly as Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, has evaluated its technology's performance with millions of miles of testing and has started an autonomous ride hailing service called Waymo One in Phoenix, Arizona.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were over 37,000 deaths from car crashes in the United States in 2017. A study by the Rand Corporation published in 2017 found that adopting Highly Autonomous Vehicles (HAVs) sooner rather than later could save lives.  HAVs may soon be judged safer than human drivers; implementing autonomous vehicles at this point will prevent accidents and lives lost. 
Fuel Efficiency and Traffic
Widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles could improve fuel efficiency, decreasing fuel consumption. Adaptive cruise control (ACC), considered level 1 autonomy,  is already making a difference. A study by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) found that vehicles equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control consumed between 5 and 7 percent less fuel than vehicles not equipped with ACC.  As higher levels of autonomy are adopted, fuel efficiency may improve as well.
Optimal fuel efficiency can be attained in the more distant future. If autonomous vehicles are proven to be as safe as some experts predict, cars could be completely redesigned. Nady Boules, the director of GM’s Electrical and Controls Integration Lab predicts, “You could remove the weight dedicated to crash protection, using very light materials for the skin instead of metals.” By removing unnecessary weight, vehicles will become much more fuel efficient. This could also eliminate the cost of safety technologies such as airbags.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication may improve fuel efficiency and traffic congestion, and safety. Results from a simulation of Autonomous Car Following Control systems and Cooperative Car Following Control (C-CFC) systems published by the IEEE found that both control algorithms improve traffic flow in traffic jams. Cars in the simulation using the C-CFC algorithm, a type of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, were more fuel efficient than cars not using the C-CFC algorithm. 
A 2018 study at the University of Toronto found that autonomous vehicles could reduce the space needed in parking lots by 62 percent. Fully autonomous vehicles drop passengers off at their destination. With no occupants to exit vehicles in parking garages, autonomous vehicles could park much closer together. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication would allow for a grid-like layout of cars. When a car exits the garage, the surrounding cars rearrange. These two factors contribute to a decrease in space needed for public parking. 
Barriers to Adoption
Legal issues are one of the most significant obstacles to the large-scale production and use of autonomous vehicles. The introduction of such vehicles has impacted and will further impact most aspects of society, so policymakers must move towards a comprehensive set of applicable legislation.
Nevada (June 6, 2011) was the first state to effectively allow the operation of autonomous vehicles by authorizing the Nevada Department of Transportation to set forth rules and regulations governing these vehicles. Twenty-nine additional states have enacted autonomous vehicle-related legislation since. Governors of ten states have issued executive orders to help advance legal progress. 
On the federal level, legislators seek to facilitate the creation of a framework for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. Since Nevada first enacted legislation in 2011, little federal progress has ensued, as legal concerns have become controversial and multifaceted.  2017 was a recent turning point — two bipartisan bills were introduced in Congress. The SELF DRIVE Act passed unanimously through committee and passed a verbal vote on the United States House of Representatives floor, and the AV START Act passed unanimously through committee but was never brought to the United States Senate floor. Differences between the two bills were not reconciled because of concern over safety details, and neither bill was passed.  Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Center for Auto Safety shared safety concerns, asserting that “rushing a bill to usher in mass deployment of risky, unproven systems . . . using dubious claims about safety is misleading and disingenuous at best, and reckless and deadly at worst.”  Both pieces of legislation were fairly similar. They would have established “the federal role in ensuring the safety of highly automated vehicles by encouraging the testing and deployment of such vehicles,” while preventing states from enacting related laws unless in strict accordance with federal laws. They also would have directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to publish safety standards for autonomous vehicles.  Nevertheless, in 2018, the Department of Transportation released new autonomous vehicle guidelines, called Automated Vehicles 3.0. The voluntary guidance advanced safety principles and implementation strategies, reduced policy uncertainty, and advised on working with the Department of Transportation in the future.
In August 2019, the United_States House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation solicited input from industry, nonprofits, and disability advocates to help craft a new bipartisan bill. In October 2019, the Senate committee began to circulate the first few sections of the first draft of a prospective bill, the language of which is comparable to that of the SELF DRIVE Act. The timeline of the new bill is still unclear. 
A major challenge to the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles is liability uncertainty. This is a particularly important challenge because it will determine the landscape of the commercialization of autonomous vehicles.  It remains uncertain who will be liable when there is a car accident or other violation for which there is a party at fault, as “no clear legal framework exists that outlines how liability is apportioned between third parties responsible for designing AV systems – the manufacturer, supplier, software provider or the software operator.”  Some question if the owner or operator of the vehicle, if there is one, should be compensated for damages to the vehicle.  It is also unclear if there will be standardized crash algorithms to allow for a more generally applicable approach to liability assessment. 
Data privacy is intertwined with liability. Insurance companies weigh how much and what type of data will be accessible or sold for assigning liability more accurately. Autonomous vehicles rely on a myriad of sensors sampling continuously to ensure safe operation. Location data could be exposed to external networks, allowing others to track the vehicle. Autonomous vehicle users could face highly targeted advertisements from their autonomous vehicle data, which could give companies private information. 
Current policy addresses some privacy concerns related to vehicle data. Security and Privacy in Your Car Study Act of 2017 required the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to protect against unauthorized access to driving data, including for marketing and advertising purposes. The bill applies to autonomous vehicles, but does not specify specific additional language for those vehicles. 
In March of 2018, an Uber operating under a self driving system killed a pedestrian. The pedestrian, Elaine Hertzberg, was walking across the street with her bike. Though the car detected an object in its path, the algorithm did not apply the breaks. It is expected that the back-up human driver will apply the breaks in this situation.  This outcome is concerning to many and begs the question: Can machines act as moral agents? As the prevalence of autonomous vehicles increase, engineers will have to face questions similar to the Trolley_problem, which contemplates a trolley moving down a track. The trolley can continue in its course, hitting 5 people tied to the track, or switch paths hitting 1 person. Ethics scholars are discussing these hard questions. 
Cyber Security poses a threat to autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are vulnerable to hackers, making the many networks connected to these vehicles vulnerable as well. The more autonomous vehicles become, the more threats are posed. 
A 2019 study found that public perceptions impact the ease of adoption for autonomous vehicles. Familiarity plays a role in these perceptions. Public opinion of autonomous vehicles improves with increased interaction with the vehicles. The study recommends implementing policy that allows increased interaction with autonomous vehicles. 
Ride Hailing Implications
Some speculate that AV’s could change the way people think about space in cars. Moving towards different interior design could increase average occupancy in vehicles, solving the single rider problem and improving congestion. Autonomous vehicles in ride hailing would also likely provide higher availability of services and safer in-car experiences for riders. Riders could summon autonomous vehicles at any time of day; the availability of a driverless ride hailing service would not have to depend on drivers in the area being awake and alert. Unsafe interactions between a rider and a driver would be impossible without a driver in the vehicle.
Trust of Technology
Every time a person decides to travel in a car, he or she is putting his or her life in the hands of the driver. Many people seem to be okay with this decision based on the amount of cars one can see on the road any given day. With full autonomy, the driving decisions that were once made mostly by humans would be made by a combination of their vehicles’ hardware and software. Human error causes the vast majority of crashes, so this trust and reliance on computers seems to be a step in the right direction assuming the proper testing is done. It might, however, manifest in other aspects of life; people may stop realizing how many decisions they let computers make for them.
Governments spend thousands of dollars to install traffic law enforcement cameras. This money could potentially be allocated to other needs should autonomous vehicles be widely adopted and programmed to follow road laws. The benefit may come at a cost though. Some cities obtain a substantial amount of revenue from traffic violation fines.
- Nevada Bill Legalizing Autonomous Vehicles
- Ford is Ready For the Autonomous Car. Are Drivers?
- NHTSA: Automated Vehicles
- SAE Publication
- Jeep Grand Cherokee: Safety and Security
- Toyota Safety Sense
- GM: Why all AVs should be EVs
- Tesla Press Kit
- Tesla Autopilot
- Waymo: Journey
- Fatality Statistics
- The Enemy of Good: Estimating the Cost of Waiting for Nearly Perfect Automated Vehicles
- Green Vehicle Guide: Self-Driving Vehicles
- An Automated Vehicle Fuel Economy Benefits Evaluation Framework Using Real-World Travel and Traffic Data
- How Vehicle Automation Will Cut Fuel Consumption
- [ Cooperative Car-Following Control: Distributed Algorithm and Impact on Moving Jam Features]
- How Self-Driving Cars Could Shrink Parking Lots
- Merging self-driving cars with the law
- Autonomous Vehicles | Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation
- Congress Drafts First Sections Of New, Bipartisan Autonomous Vehicle Bill
- AV START threatens public safety and driverless car potential
- H.R.3388 - SELF DRIVE Act
- S.1885 - AV START Act
- Automated Vehicles 3.0
- Wheels begin to turn on self-driving car legislation
- Governing autonomous vehicles: emerging responses for safety, liability, privacy, cybersecurity, and industry risks
- S.680 - SPY Car Act of 2017
- Uber self-driving SUV saw pedestrian but did not brake, federal report finds
- Stanford scholars, researchers discuss key ethical questions self-driving cars present
- Assessing Risk: Identifying and Analyzing Cyber-security Threats to Automated Vehicles
- Perceptions and expectations of autonomous vehicles – A snapshot of vulnerable road user opinion
- Self-Driving Cars Likely To Spur Solo Occupancy and Paradoxically Undercut True Ridesharing
- Waymo launches nation's first commercial self-driving taxi tervice in Arizona
- Uber: Safety tips for drivers
- Virginia Department of Transportaion Red Light Running Photo Enforcement Program: FAQs
- Washington Post: Drivers continue to ignore speed cameras in the District, earning city more than $100 million