“Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their children. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars.” Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker
You may already have formed an opinion about the imminence of driverless cars, and may have had a few heated discussions about why they are or aren’t a good idea. It’s a technology that seems to be extremely divisive and it will be interesting to see how it affects driving and the industry at large.
There’s no doubt that a computer program would be infinitely safer than an error-prone human driver. Where humans have been proven to brake and accelerate extremely sharply, driverless cars will keep a safe distance between other cars and will have 360° vision and sensors/lasers than can see through other objects (no blind spots or irrational decision-making!). This however may make it difficult to assign fault if an accident occurs, is it the person sitting in the car or the manufacturer who pays? What if somebody walks into the path of a driverless car and is injured?
The Driving Experience
The idea of losing the “driving experience” and surrendering the ‘thrill’ of driving to a machine is something that does not sit well with most people. However, it could be argued that most drives (especially commutes) are generally dull, frustrating, traffic-ridden affairs. You could spend this time doing things you enjoy such as reading, watching TV, napping or even working to free up time later on. Most cars may initially have an override setting which will allow you to take control of the car as and when you want to.
Most cars spend 23 hours a day sitting idle, but with autonomous technology, people may not need to own their own cars. Instead, driverless cars could be used in a similar way to the current Uber service, whose cars come and pick you up from wherever your request and drop you off before finding their next passenger. This will be a lot cheaper than taking a taxi or owning your own car. It will save resources, no time will be wasted looking for parking and congestion will be significantly reduced, making travel a great deal faster.
There are of course a huge number of other considerations to look at that have not been mentioned here, including legislation, road planning, mapping, job loss and market-entry competition. What are your views on this disruptive, but ultimately inevitable, technology?