How close are we to seeing self-driving cars on the roads?

Just by looking at the numbers, it's not difficult to see why so many people are looking forward to the prospect of self-driving cars. In 2015 alone, according to the most recent statistical data available from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 35,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes that involved nearly 49,000 vehicles. The average annual economic cost of car crashes is estimated to be a staggering $242 billion.

Because most accidents are caused by driver error, self-driving cars are expected to significantly reduce the number of accidents caused each year in the United States. Unfortunately, the two automakers leading the charge on self-driving cars, Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google) and General Motors Co., aren't expecting to release their first fully automated vehicles until 2020.

Legislation may help the cause

Alabama is one of the states that has enacted self-driving vehicle legislation. While some states have been slow to implement legislation regarding self-driving technology, the U.S. government is taking steps to ensure self-driving technology can – and will – reach the masses. As a September Reuters article explains, the House is currently pushing for federal legislation that would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy self-driving vehicles in states that either do not have self-driving vehicle legislation or have legislation that blocks autonomous vehicles.

Costs could hold us back, however

Even though automakers are eager to release the first wave of self-driving vehicles in 2020, it's hard to say how many will actually be on the roads the first year. According to a several sources, the average American spends anywhere between $20,000 - $25,000 on a new car. In order to make a vehicle self-driving, a complex system of lasers, sensors and cameras need to be installed that can easily add anywhere between $8,000 - $85,000 to a vehicle's base price.

Most people don't have $110,000 just lying around to spend on a vehicle, even if it's one that could make our roads exponentially safer. As such, it could be several years – even a decade or more – before the price on self-driving cars drops enough for millions of average Americans to see the value in purchasing what was once considered "the car of the future."

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