That car on the highway next to you may be driving itself some day.

Experts say self-driving cars will save lives: Would you ride in one?

Imagine being able to reduce the number of Ohioans who died in roadway crashes to 103 instead of the 1,033 who were killed in crashes last year.

Experts say autonomous vehicle technology could lead to dramatic reductions in car and truck crashes, injuries and deaths in coming decades as self-driving cars take to the road and old “legacy” vehicles are gradually replaced by cars that can see better than humans and react more quickly.

RELATED: ‘Smart car’ technology may make roads safer, but some fear data hacks 

With autonomous vehicles in place accident frequency could decline 90 percent by 2050, according to a June report by KPMG, a professional service company analyzing the impact autonomous vehicles will have on the insurance industry nationwide.

The company projects the total losses from auto accidents could fall by $122 billion, or 63 percent by 2050, assuming autonomous vehicles lead to both fewer and less severe accidents.

RELATED: Distracted driving: Texting, app use increases deaths on Ohio highways

This Ford Fusion autonomous vehicle is being used to test smart car technology at Ohio State University’s Automated Driving Lab.
Photo: Staff Writer

Smart car technology is already in cars coming off assembly lines, although much of it is on higher priced vehicles. Things like automatic emergency braking, backup cameras, lane departure warning and forward collision warning are expected to be on an increasing number of vehicles in coming years.

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“Right now is one of the most disruptive times that has ever faced the automotive and mobility industry,” said Joanna Pinkerton, chief operating officer of the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, which is working with the state of Ohio and Ohio State University on smart car research.

“Our highways and our cars have been roughly the same for about 100 years and all of a sudden we see opportunity to ….reduce fatalities and to reduce congestion and to reduce pollution through new technologies.”

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Joanna Pinkerton, chief operating officer at Transportation Research Center

Crash avoidance features are already making vehicles safer and crash injuries less severe, according to a 2016 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study of vehicles with front crash prevention technology.

The study used U.S. police reported crash data and found that automatic braking reduced rear-end crashes by 40 percent on average. Rear-end crashes were reduced by 23 percent when vehicles that had forward collision warning systems, the IIHS study found.

RELATED: What makes a smart car so smart?

Successful test of autonomous test on Ohio highways

“As this technology becomes more widespread we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end collisions,” David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, said in a safety report.

This week this newspaper takes a close look at the drive to replace today’s conventional cars with autonomous vehicles. 

RELATED: Ohio Patrol cracking down on distracted driving; state considering higher fines

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