Driverless Cars - Potential Drawbacks

Given the chilling statistic of over a million traffic-related deaths every year, the driverless car would presumably work to alleviate this situation by relying on powerful processing, computer code, sensors and second-to-second internet data. Until these cars are used widely, the question remains whether traffic could ever work safely and smoothly or whether incidents are inevitable in a system with so many constituents. After all, driverless cars, too, have been designed by fallible humans.  

Economic issues:

Introducing the electronically-powered driverless car has to be considered in the context of the car and oil industries, which would both be affected by and affect this technology. Whatever the purported benefits of autonomous driving might be, many governments still rely heavily for their GDP on tax from transport fuel, and this is something to keep in mind. Google have not confirmed whether their interest is only in creating the technology that enables self-driving, for car makers to implement, or also in car manufacture.  

This is followed by the question whether this will be a job-eliminating or job-creating technology. The car manufacture and service industries currently employ and support millions of people in the US alone, and it will require long-term innovative planning to ensure employment for these people.

Safety issues:

Will autonomous driving actually be safer, especially as there won’t be a uniform traffic system in place (all driver-controlled cars or all self-driven cars) in the foreseeable future? It’s easy to imagine challenging situations, especially in the first years, and providing the public with more information on how these cars work and how they will fit into the existing system would be useful.

For example, as they move through the prototype phase, the makers will need to be more explicit about how decisions will be made by these computer-cars in dangerous traffic situations. What exactly happens if the autonomous car is faced with a child suddenly running onto the road, or a potential head-on collision? And since the pods use both sensors and GPS to locate themselves, what happens if this becomes unavailable? If we are to relinquish control of machinery that has the potential to kill both ourselves and others, we need to know much more about what happens in different scenarios.    

When incidents do happen, whose responsibility would it be? If the makers claim such superior reaction times and manoeuvring precision for their invention, what, if any, guarantees would they provide? Would the driver in the non-autonomous vehicle have to bear the responsibility?

And if autonomous cars’ safety is proven, but you still opt to drive a traditional car, the possible changes in insurance premiums might discourage you to do so.

One safety risk that these cars carry is that of hacking, which is something that the makers of autonomous vehicles (especially those, like Google’s buggy prototype, that do not have a back-up, traditional system the driver could take hold of if needed) will have to address. If safety is foregrounded as a major selling point for these vehicles, then explicit reassurance should be offered with regard to the possibility of, and protection from, malicious cyber attacks and other abuse.

So will you hop on the driverless bandwagon, or do you think this will be yet another episode in our long history of technological hubris?

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