Five years ago, it seemed like every automaker was talking about their work developing self-driving vehicles. We were promised that autonomous cars would virtually eliminate car accidents caused by human negligence and error — and soon. In 2016, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx predicted that self-driving vehicles would be widely available in American by 2021.

Now that 2021 is just a few months away, it’s clear that Foxx was wrong. Autonomous vehicles are still in the testing phase, and no dealership in New Mexico is selling one. Why not?

What’s delaying self-driving vehicles?

Basically, the job of engineering cars that can reliably and safely carry passengers on highways and city streets has turned out to be more difficult than everyone thought in 2015. Part of this has to do with the fact that robot vehicles will only gradually replace human drivers. For many years, maybe decades, autonomous vehicles will have to predict what human-controlled automobiles will do because not all vehicles will go to automation at once. That has greatly complicated and slowed down the process.

The COVID-19 pandemic also seems to be changing the timeline. Besides limiting the ability of people to work, the pandemic and resulting shutdown could change how people travel. Many people who used to regularly commute to work may work from home permanently. Others will eventually return to their workplaces but be more inclined to use public transit. Traditional automakers, as well as startups dedicated to developing self-driving cars, are watching closely to see what the future of auto buying will be.

For now, car accident injuries are still a problem

We can still expect to see autonomous vehicles in New Mexico sooner or later. Whether such cars, trucks and SUVs will make injuries suffered in auto accidents a thing of the past remains to be seen. More importantly, right now, we still must address the problems of distracted driving, drunk driving, speeding and other forms of negligence in a way that protects victims in the aftermath of accidents.