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Enforcing Speed Limits Will Become Easier with Autonomous Vehicles

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【Summary】To be specific, the NACTO wants to lower speed limits by a few miles per hour. Based on findings from the US Department of Transportation, a slight decrease is enough to significantly reduce car accidents caused by reckless speeding.

Michael Cheng    Dec 07, 2016 6:06 AM PT

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), roughly 38,300 people were killed due to car accidents on US public roads in 2015. During the same period, a whopping 44 million individuals sustained injuries that required medical attention. The organization claims that this was the largest jump in traffic deaths in the past 50 years.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has a solution to this issue. In order to curtail the development of this trend, the group wants to force cars to abide by local speed limit regulations. Officials believe that the introduction of autonomous cars could allow law enforcement to automatically and electronically set speed limit caps by pushing out data to the modern vehicles.

"The link between speed and safety is very clear," said Corinne Kisner, the director of policy at the NACTO.

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Managing Speed Limits

To be specific, the NACTO wants to lower speed limits by a few miles per hour. Based on findings from the US Department of Transportation, a slight decrease is enough to significantly reduce car accidents caused by reckless speeding. Getting hit by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph is up to eight times more likely to cause fatal injuries, compared to a car moving at 20 mph, according to the group. The American Automobile Association backs up such assertions, claiming that a car moving 31 mph can increase the severity of injury from an accident by up to two times, compared to a vehicle traveling at 23 mph.

Interestingly, some cities are leveraging car speeding data to update road regulations surrounding speed limits. Earlier this year, Seattle lowered speed limits on residential roads to 20 mph (25 mph for arterial streets). Boston followed suit and is taking steps to lower local speed limits from 30 mph to 25 mph.

But is this really the answer to curbing fatalities caused by speeding?

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Mixed Solutions

Automakers developing self-driving cars have different solutions for this global issue. Dmitri Dolgov, principal software engineer at Google, explained that the company's self-driving cars are actually programmed to travel 10 mph above local speed limits. The tech giant mentioned that when other cars around a driverless vehicle are speeding, moving at slower speeds could make road conditions more dangerous. Google has proved this scenario to be highly relevant, as a study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute found that most self-driving car accidents are caused by aggressive drivers hitting the law-abiding vehicles from behind.

Ford, a car manufacturing brand that is also developing its own fleet of self-driving cars, has a completely different way of preventing cars from exceeding speed limits. In 2015, the business revealed a smart speed limiter that automatically adjust traveling speeds by reading signs on open roads. The technology, which is already available in the Ford S-Max, relies on a built-in traffic sign recognition feature that detects local speed limits.

"The system does not apply the brakes but smoothly controls engine torque by electronically adjusting the amount of fuel delivered," the company said in a press release. "Drivers can temporarily override the system by pressing firmly on the accelerator."

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