Especially in National Parks
I drove over 1,100 miles last week back and forth through the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Most of the miles were driven at night, but many were at night, dusk, or dawn as well. Visibility during these times is drastically reduced and when there is a threat of dark colored animals walking out in front of your vehicle at anytime, that is dangerous. Even in the best of conditions, an elk, bison, bear, deer, and others can sprint across the road without warning. If you aren’t paying close attention, you can seriously injure or kill them.
This is where automated cars can save lives. The car I rented (a 2020 Ford Escape) was fully loaded. It had some great safety features, such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane-Keeping.
Adaptive Cruise, or intelligent cruise control, automatically follows the vehicle in front of you at a set distance and max speed. When the vehicle in front of you stops, your vehicle stops, then it continues following as they speed up. Not only will it stop for vehicles, but it should stop for any obstacle in the road ahead. This is a great feature in any situation, but I found it extremely useful while driving along in the National Parks and constantly being on the lookout for wildlife to photograph.
Lane-Keeping basically keeps your vehicle in your lane. Personally, I chose not to trust this feature on windy mountain roads and opted to control the steering myself. However, the feature has a lot of promise. When in a situation where you are constantly on the lookout for things on the side of the road, such as wildlife, using technology like this to ensure you are staying in your lane is a must. Many animals enjoy grazing on the side of the road. Staying in your lane is another way to avoid hitting and potentially killing them.
Full Self Driving
Currently, Tesla has the most advanced self-driving technology in full production and it is improving constantly. Once on the highway, the self-driving feature can be enabled and the vehicle will completely drive itself. Not only will it automatically do the 2 features already mentioned above, but it will automatically attempt to avoid accidents based on what it sees on the road. The latest update allows it to stop at stop signs, traffic lights, and more.
While Tesla is pushing the envelope on technological advancements, other car makers are taking notice and trying to catch up. The next 5 years will be very interesting and I think we can expect fully automated cars in that timeframe. You will be able to get in your car, give it an address, and it will safely handle the rest.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), 76 large mammals were killed by vehicle strikes in 2018. That is a large number that could be reduced by using self-driving features available today. The most advanced vehicles are all electric and the NPS recognized the demand for electric vehicles in their parks by installing 6 charging stations throughout the parks.
The future is bright, and hopefully full of beautiful wildlife for us to enjoy viewing.