1.2 million people are killed annually, world-wide in traffic crashes. 33,000 of them occurred in the U.S. 33,000 people would represent the number of people killed if a 737 airplane fell out of the sky five days a week. So, if you ask Google (the leader in this field) why they’re developing driverless cars, that is, cars that are capable of driving from point to point without driver input they will tell you that since more than 92 percent of car crashes are due to driver error. it’s all about making driving safer. That is an argument that is open to debate.
First of all, in the near future when AVs need to be on the road with non-AVs, that is, unpredictable human drivers, traffic concerns will get a bit more complicated. According to an AAA survey, 84 percent of respondents said they would trust their own driving skills rather than technology.
Human instinct behind the wheel is invaluable. There are too many unknown variables when driving, such as, traffic congestion, weather conditions, sudden lane changes from another driver or an intoxicated driver etc. Computers are unable to act like the human mind in a time of crisis. An AV takes away a sense of responsibility, but when we drive we must be diligent and watchful of changing conditions. In an AV, being able to override autonomy is a must. Control is still a major factor in the feeling of safety.
There comes to mind the case of the Mercedes self-driving car, affectionately known as Bertha Benz. When Bertha was about to enter a highway, it recognized a car on her side radar, but what she didn’t comprehend was that an aggressive driver was not going to let her in because he apparently was engrossed in other matters. The Mercedes would have hit the brakes and come to a complete stop in the acceleration lane if the driver hadn’t intervened by stepping on the gas and swinging in behind the aggressive driver.
We have too many people getting into collisions. But, with less control on the part of the driver, training will be diminished, which means that when there are circumstances where the driver needs to take control, they won’t know enough about driving to do so. We already see this when people are not sufficiently trained to handle icy conditions, and now they won’t be able to do so in dry weather. So rather than do a better job of training and tightening licensing regulations, the trend will be relieve drivers of responsibility.
Consider the fact that human drivers instinctively act in their best interests. An AV will probably have to be programmed for the greater good – i.e. – to save the greatest number of lives in a potential crash situation. Not good for a driver alone in a vehicle where there is a potential for a crash involving multiple other vehicle occupants or pedestrians.
Another issue is that AVs ultimately depend on systems that can only be fine-tuned so much. A self-driving car knows that it has to start braking when it’s a certain distance away from another vehicle, but it doesn’t know how much tread is left on its tires, or if there’s a puddle up ahead. Too many people don’t properly maintain their vehicles when they’re the ones at the wheel, and that will probably get worse when they don’t have to think about driving.
It should also be noted that some of the scenarios AVs have the most trouble with are the scenarios human beings have the most trouble with, such as traversing all-way stop signs or handling a yellow light (do you brake suddenly, or floor it and run the light)?
Another consideration is the fact that nearly two-thirds of the country’s roads are in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation. Without lane markings to guide it, AVs refuse to drive itself. How does a self-driving car stay in a lane with no lane markers?
Is it also too far fetched to think that driverless cars could be used to transport explosive by terrorists?
Even if in a few years self-driving cars are proven to be ten times safer than human-operated cars, all it’s going to take is one tragic crash and the public is going to lose their minds. There will be outrage.
But, here’s the good news. Most experts say widespread use of AVs is about 10 to 15 years away. So, if you’re like me, in the third trimester of life, we will not be around to have to deal with this technology.
Some high-end cars already have self-driving technology that are forerunners to the full driverless car. They include:
Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)- allows the wheels on a motor vehicle to maintain contact with the road surface according to driver inputs while braking, preventing the wheels from locking up (ceasing rotation) and avoiding uncontrolled skidding.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)- Working with ABS, ESC is a computerized system that applies appropriate braking to reduce skidding and keeps the vehicle on its intended course.
Forward Collision Warning- Lasers, radar and/or cameras asses the possibility of a crash and alert the driver to brake.
Auto Emergency Braking- In some systems, if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning, the brakes will be applied automatically.
Lane Keeping Assist- If the driver fails to signal for a lane change, a mild steering input is activated to keep the car in the lane.
Adaptive Cruise Control- This automatically adjusts the car’s speed in relation to the car in front.
Rearview Back-up Cameras- provides visibility of objects such as bicycles, small children, the neighbor’s cat and other assorted hazards that can lurk behind a car.
Parking Sensors- Whether mounted in front or in the rear, these radar-based sensors detect when the vehicle approaches a hazard and issue a warning beep.
Side-view assist. If the driver doesn’t turn his head before changing lanes, sensors can detect a car in the “blind spot” and then issue an alert with a light in the side mirror or with a beep if the turn signal is engaged .
The New York Times reports:
Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.
“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.
Last week, Anthony Foxx, the United States transportation secretary, pledged that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would help set standards for fully automated vehicles within the next six months.