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Your Next Volvo May Drive Itself

If you’re sick of slogging through bumper-to-bumper traffic, Volvo may soon have a solution to offer.

The automaker recently announced that it is developing a traffic jam assistance system that will allow a vehicle to pilot itself in at speeds up to about 31 miles-per-hour. In a press release, Volvo declares that the system “will be ready for production in 2014.”

In the statement, Volvo says that the new system is an evolution of its current partially-autonomous driving systems like Lane Keeping Aid and Adaptive Cruise Control. The system is turned on by pressing a button, and once activated, the car will accelerate, brake and steer on its own, while maintaining a set distance from the vehicle in front of it. Volvo says the driver can take back control of the vehicle at any time.

Car and Driver notes that “Even though the system is only designed for low-speed operation, this still is a huge deal—to have a car automatically handle throttle, braking, and steering duties all at once is entirely new to production vehicles.” They point out, however, that traffic jam assistance really only allows the car to maintain a set distance from the vehicle in front, and that the system “makes no claims about reading signs, acknowledging stoplights, or other such things….” Thus while the driver can relax while the car pilots through thick traffic, he or she should still be paying attention to surroundings.

So far, autonomous technology has been legalized in a small handful of states, mainly for purposes of prototype testing. However, the idea of self-driving cars is starting to gain traction at a national level. Inside Line reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is beginning to research what self-driving cars might mean for public policy. The publication says that NHTSA administrator David Strickland is a proponent of autonomous technology, as “turning control over to computer-controlled vehicles could dramatically reduce accidents and the tens of thousands of fatalities that result from them each year.” Studies have shown that 90 percent of all highway accidents are caused by human error.

This means that, ready or not, more and more new vehicles will be equipped with increasingly more self-driving technology, which may not only help keep you safer, but allow you to sit back and relax while your car pilots itself through a hairy traffic jam.

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