The tipping point for autonomous cars will occur when automobile insurance offers a discount for travel in an autonomous car. If statistical analysis demonstrates the autonomous car is safer in all conditions than a car with a human driver, the technology has succeeded. I predict there may be some intermediate steps where the autonomous car is rated better than the worst drivers but not as good as the best drivers. This may result in some interesting insurance policies.
Furthermore, I rechecked my numbers. For 2011, NHTSA reported 21,253 deaths and 1.97 million injuries while the Wiki cites 32,367 deaths for the same year. The difference is that the Wiki includes pedestrian deaths. The Wiki number translates to about 2700 deaths per month while there were about 3000 9/11 deaths. So I overstated it a bit in my initial observation but I think the 164,000 monthly injuries makes up for it.
Conclusion that the days of human driven vehicles are very limited remains unchanged.
I think once Level 4 cars come to market at a mass market price then the phasing out of human driven vehicles on public roads will be extremely quick. How could it be otherwise? At present the monthly casualty count on US roads alone is equivalent to the 9/11 attack. Add to that the economic benefits of greatly increased roads capacities and an end to congestion, one can only conclude that the days of human driven vehicles are quite limited.
The best I see autonomous cars getting in the time span of 15-30 years is perhaps on divided highway situations. Once you enter the on-ramp, you could flip a switch to autonomous mode which would allow you do do all your distratcted driving tasks until you reached your exist. Then the car would be in manual mode.
At any time during the autonomous mode, it could be overridden. I like to think of it as a smart cruise control.
I heard on the radio that truck drivers may have to worry about employment as their job is taken over by a robot. I find this no more realistic than pilots being out of a job for the same reason. Someone would have to be behind the wheel at all times even if the truck is running autonomously.
Already we are submitting tasks like trading stocks and transmission of electricity to computers, giving us incidents we cannot fully explain. It will take some while before we put our faith in similar systems for activities that are safety critical intensive.
Kris, Junko - re: "I wonder at which point "normal" cars will be phased out, as analog TV today."
There's a pretty easy answer to this question. Look at classic cars on the road today with none of the modern required safety features. Cars from the 1960's and earlier are simply death-traps by today's standards, but they stay around in limited numbers, driven by car enthusiasts.
Manually driven cars will be grandfathered in, as are old, unsafe cars today. Their numbers will dwindle over time until there just aren't enough on the road to be a significant factor.
I think we'll all be quite surprised at how fast this happens. My prediction is that Auto manufacturers will be offering their first cars with Level-4 self-driving capability in less than a decade. Adoption won't be that fast until people start to realize that the accident rate on self-driving cars is a fraction of what it is with conventional cars.
Yes, manufacturers will be afraid of the liability and they'll get sued. But - they will calculate the expected costs of self-driving related accident suits vs. the cost of the current liability structure and will want to push the self-drivers. NHTSA will get involved and want to see self driving as a safety feature too.
I'm expecting to see some car modder offering a self-driving kit any day now. If it's not this year, it won't be long from now and it will be before the manufacturers get in on the action.