Just under a decade ago, Google’s concept of a self-driving car seemed outlandish. That’s not the case today. Now, brands like Tesla, Lyft, and Uber are actively pursuing the idea. Even mainstream car manufacturers are conducting research into the concept of self-driving cars in an attempt to gain their own foothold in this space.
But here’s what is certain. In the future, we will be driving autonomous vehicles. Yes, there are still things to work out in terms of the technology, but the truth is we are coming closer and closer to this being the reality.
Then again, technology isn’t the true roadblock. Nor is safety. When 93% of all accidents are caused by human error or intentional action, it’s clear that the safest thing to do is take the human element out of the picture for the most part. Instead, it will be legal and regulatory issues, and resistance among drivers themselves that slow down this progress. There will also be pushback from those who benefit from maintaining the status quo. Then there are the logistics of it all.
Job Loss is a Real And Perceived Concern
When self driving cars become mainstream, there are potentially millions of people who could lose their jobs. This includes delivery drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers. This will likely impact those working in complementary fields. Imagine the impact of this change on a motel chain or truck stop that relies on vehicle traffic for its main source of income.
This, of course, puts politicians in a quandary. Do they vote in favor of policies that support autonomous vehicles? This gives their challengers ammunition to refer to them as job killing and out of touch with the needs of their constituents. The current political climate doesn’t exactly seem to be leaning towards progression at the cost of populism.
Drivers Will Need to Rethink Personal Safety And Liability
It turned out that the fatal car accident involving a self-driving vehicle from Tesla was the result of the driver’s failure to download a vital software update. In the future, if autonomous vehicles are going to become a reality, one of the challenges will be getting drivers to buy into new concepts regarding vehicle maintenance. Replacing worn brake pads, keeping tires inflated, and having cars checked out a few times a year are all commonly accepted ways to keep cars safe and operational. In the future, keeping up with software upgrades, even installing vehicular anti virus and security software will be considered the vehicle owner’s responsibility in terms of keeping cars safe for themselves and others.
There are definitely unanswered questions. For example, who is liable if a driverless vehicle causes an accident? We know that if a driver loses control of their car because they did not properly maintain it, they are responsible. If a driver is in an accident as a result of their negligence relating to their AV, are they equally liable? What about the manufacturer. There will very likely be new laws that will need to be written. Attorneys will have new challenges to face as they seek to protect and help those who have been injured in car accidents caused by self-driving vehicles.
Tough Decisions And Higher Expectations
Every driver makes mistakes or chooses to drive recklessly. Sometimes those mistakes and choices end in near misses. Other times, fender benders are the result. Then there are times when injury even death are the consequences. We accept that risk.
In spite of the fact that AVs reduce risk, they cannot eliminate it altogether. Although it was later proved to be human error, Tesla was initially blamed for a fatal car accident. Self-driving cars from Uber have been tagged running red lights on multiple occasions.
So, what happens when a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident? In addition to accepted risk when humans are in control, there is often some level of sympathy and understanding towards those whose mistake cause an accident. Reckless, illegal, or intentional behavior being obvious exceptions to this. There’s no way you could have stopped in time. It could have happened to anyone. Don’t blame yourself.
Reactions to accidents caused by machines are starkly different. There is an expectation that these machines will execute perfectly, and make the best decisions possible. When the inevitable happens, it will and has become fodder to justify preventing this technology from becoming mainstream or rolling back progress.
Security is a Serious Concern
Hackers have already taken over vehicles that have some self driving features. However, in cases where there is a driver present, there is less risk. An alert driver can see that something is amiss, and override the driverless features. When a car is truly driverless, that’s not an option. When all aspects of the vehicle’s operation are software driven, how will the car know when things aren’t right. Auto manufacturers will have to work hard to ensure that the security measures they implement stay far ahead of the malicious individuals or groups who could literally turn a self driving vehicle into a weapon.
Self driving cars will eventually become the norm. It’s inevitable considering that all major players in the automotive industry are slowly adopting the technologies that will take us from fully manual vehicles to partially autonomous, to fully autonomous. However, it is clear that the transition will not be without challenges. Politics, human nature, legalities, and logistics will need to be dealt with before progress is made.