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As Traffic Deaths Remain High, Invest in Self-Driving Cars

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The National Safety Council released on Thursday its preliminary estimates for U.S. motor vehicle deaths in 2017, placing the death toll at over 40,000 for the second-straight year. Reasons for these gut-wrenching numbers vary from mobile phone-related distracted driving to higher speed limits, but something needs to change. And the long-term solution to curbing motor vehicle-related deaths might just be driverless vehicles.

The NSC estimates there were 40,100 motor vehicle deaths in 2017, which would mark a roughly 1% year-over-year drop. Still, that total would amount to a 6% climb from the 2015. On top of these fatalities, approximately 4.57 million people were seriously injured in car accidents last year.

While accidents pile up, companies have poured billions of dollars into autonomous vehicle technology in recent years. A variety of firms, from Tesla (TSLA - Free Report) to Alphabet (GOOGL - Free Report) , have tested self-driving cars on U.S. roads, with much success and some backlash.

Self-driving cars will not rid the U.S. of car accidents overnight, and there will be issues along the way.  But in theory, the technology behind—and prevalence of—these vehicles should drastically reduce the number of motor vehicle-related fatalities.

With that said, let’s take a look at three companies helping lead the push towards an autonomous vehicle future.

1.       General Motors Company (GM - Free Report)

Earlier this year, this automotive giant petitioned the federal government to limit rules in order to allow the company to begin testing cars that have no steering wheel, pedals, or other driver controls. General Motors hopes to begin its newest autonomous vehicle testing on public roads and highways starting in 2019. This new technology is part of a larger push from GM that has helped the company become a leader in the self-driving car revolution.

GM is currently a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) and rocks “A” Grades for both Value and Growth in our Style Scores system. The company is currently trading at just 6.69x earnings, which marks a major discount compared to the “Automotive – Domestic” industry. GM has also been able to build up a strong cash supply that should help it further invest in self-driving tech. The company is projected to expand its bottom-line at a healthy annualized rate of more than 8% over the next three to five years.

2.       Nvidia (NVDA - Free Report)

This Wall Street darling has diversified far beyond its gaming-focused graphics chips and into the connected and driverless vehicle world. Nvidia recently announced partnerships with Volkswagen (VLKAY - Free Report) , Uber, and China's Baidu (BIDU - Free Report) that will see the chipmaker bring its “DRIVE” AI platform to these firms’ respective autonomous vehicle projects.

Nvidia is currently a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and sports an “A” grade for Growth. Our consensus estimate is moving higher on the back of strong analyst revision agreement for the chip giant’s current full year. Nvidia is expected to see its earnings and sales surge over 28% for its current fiscal year, based on our most recent Zacks Consensus Estimates.

3.       Intel Corporation (INTC - Free Report)

Intel purchased driver-assistance tech firm Mobileye last summer, which helped kick off its push into the field. More recently, the technology giant partnered with Waymo on its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica (FCAU - Free Report) hybrid minivans to provide sensor processing and connectivity technologies that allow for the real-time decisions capabilities needed for full autonomy. Intel is currently a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) and boasts an overall “B” VGM score.

Investors should note that while Intel is spending cash on new technologies, it has earned 16 upward earnings estimate revisions with 100% agreement to the upside for 2018, as well as six for the following year. Intel is also expected to see its earnings expand at an annualized rate of nearly 8.5% over the next three to five years as it invests in safe-driving tech.

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