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Why weather is a problem for autonomous vehicle safety

Even with the ongoing breakthroughs in automotive, a big hurdle that remains to be conquered is driving safely in inclement weather. Driving in less than ideal conditions decreases on-road visibility, leaving your fleet vulnerable to potential accidents. In this article, we explore the issue of autonomous vehicle safety and weather.

Though the future of autonomous technology comes with many promises and possibilities, a lot of work is still needed for self-driving cars to safely maneuver under harsh weather conditions.

The impact of weather on safety and driving conditions

According to the U.S Department of Transportation, over 5,891,000 vehicle crashes occur each year on average, out of which around 1,235,000 can be attributed to adverse weather conditions including snow, rain, fog and severe wind. The most common weather-related accidents are due to wet pavement and rainy conditions.

Rainy or snowy weather decreases a driver’s line of vision of the road ahead. Furthermore, safety on the road also relies heavily on the driver’s capability to exercise proper defensive driving techniques and make quick decisions during harsh weather conditions.

Top challenges for autonomous cars in rain

Autonomous cars are faced with many challenges when it comes to navigating rainy conditions. A post by Lance Eliot from AI Trends outlines a few issues that need to be considered:

  • Hydroplaning — The vehicle needs to make a quick judgement call on the right course of action, along with having spatial awareness before it attempts to gain or regain control.
  • Slippery Road Conditions — The vehicle needs to adjust its “driving” capabilities according to the slippery conditions. More caution needs to be taken, including leaving ample room between vehicles, accelerating and braking well in advance.
  • Water Buildup — The vehicle needs to sense the puddle ahead, or better yet, gauge how deep it is before driving by, or around it. Alternatively, during rainy conditions, it also needs to consider the best route to reach its destination.
  • Sensors — LIDAR, a surveying method, is often the primary sensory device in each vehicle. It does not always accurately sense that it’s raining, which can lead to interference with the vehicle’s sensors.

Although the future seems promising, the concept of autonomous cars still lacks the capability to be fully functioning in environments that often experience a drastic change in weather. This is because early autonomous cars are usually tested in areas that are sunny and dry such as California or Arizona.

According to the Financial Times, since self-driving cars rely heavily on LIDAR, detecting the surrounding objects during heavy snowfall poses a set of additional issues. When it snows, the snowflakes that hit the sensor can often be confused for solid objects, making it difficult for the vehicle to make the proper distinction when driving.

How weather conditions will shape the future of autonomous vehicles

In the near future, when autonomous vehicles and human drivers share the road, the new challenge for autonomous vehicles will be not only to properly react with pedestrians, but also with drivers that alter their driving behavior during extreme weather conditions.

With an increase in demand for autonomous cars equipped to drive in harsher weather conditions, businesses are seeking out solutions to bridge the gap. For instance, one semiconductor manufacturer has chosen Ontario as a research field for testing vehicles performance in the colder weather.

In order for vehicles to operate safely under all extreme weather conditions, it would need to be equipped with many sensors, posing the question of whether or not customers will consider or have interest in these sensored vehicles. This, in the future, will pose a challenge — finding ways to successfully integrate technology with design to appeal and entice customers.


Big strides have been made in terms of developments in the field of autonomous technology. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the consumer when it comes to having a fully-functioning autonomous vehicle that operates safely under all weather conditions.

Posted in: Driver Safety, GPS Tracking, Telematics

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