In October, 2014, I wrote a post about “driverless” cars: https://jilldennison.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/no-driverless-cars-please/?frame-nonce=1678a15260&preview=true&iframe=true
Today I have an important update to that post.
While driverless cars are not available to the public at this time, apparently they are being tested by a number of companies, but it seems that … are you ready for this? … Google is leading the race! Yes, that is what I said … Google. The same Google that you rely on to give you the answer to the definition of the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” and to tell you the population of Sri Lanka, is the leader of the pack in driverless cars, or “autonomous self-driving vehicles”. Google’s target date for making these cars available to the public is 2020 … a mere four years from now. Tesla, on the other hand, is planning to un-leash theirs in 2018, just two years away! But wait ….
Google’s autonomous car gained a “dubious new distinction” last month when it … um … hit a bus! Apparently the driverless car was attempting to merge into the center lane and “expected that the bus would yield”, according to company officials. You can check out actual footage of the accident here:
According to an article in Time magazine last November, a study by University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute shows self-driving cars are involved in accidents at five times the rate of those controlled by humans. Even accounting for the fact that humans often do not report minor “fender benders”, the accident rate is still estimated to be twice as high for driverless cars. However, the data set is small and it is still too early to draw firm conclusions. Google claims that the majority of the accidents involving the driverless cars were the fault of the humans driving the other vehicle involved. Fortunately, none of the accidents thus far have been serious or involved injury to humans.
The whole “autonomous car” concept seems a bit like something from a Back to the Future movie, but there are some very real concerns that come to mind. First, these cars are programmed to be incapable of breaking the law, so there should be no issue of cops pulling them over for, say, exceeding the speed limit, running a stop sign, or failure to yield. But the laws are different from one state to the next. So, if the car goes on a cross-country journey from New York to California, is the car programmed to know what state it is in and is the data for all fifty states resident in its little microchips? And what if a cop does pull it over? How do you issue a ticket to a machine? Then there’s insurance. Currently, auto insurance companies charge an extra amount to insure against an accident involving another driver who is “uninsured or under-insured”. Will we all now have to pay an additional amount to insure against being hit by a driverless machine? And then, and to me this is a huge consideration, what if the car’s computer malfunctions or re-boots on the interstate highway at 70 miles per hour? I don’t care how many assurances Google, Tesla, or Delphi offer that this can’t happen, I say “sure it can and sooner or later it will.” There is some talk about the makers of these cars accepting “blanket liability” for accidents caused by their cars. That seems unlikely, or if they do, it would certainly add significantly to the price of one of these cars. The other side of that coin, of course, being that if it is involved in a fatal collision, there is no amount of money that can compensate for a life lost. And as these cars increase in numbers and miles travelled, it is only a matter of time.
Perhaps I am just old-fashioned and not being a forward-thinker, but I don’t think I like this idea of driverless cars. In addition to all the concerns I already expressed, think of this. You are driving down a busy street when you glance in the next lane and see a car with no driver! What do you do? You are so flummoxed that you fail to note the traffic signal that just turned red and …. CRASH!!!! Nope, Google, I am not ready to see these cars on the roadways yet. I suspect that eventually it will happen, I just hope not in my lifetime.