Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have used machines to make certain tasks easier. This can be seen almost anywhere you go; from paying for groceries with our phones to using 3D printers to build bridges.
Moore’s Law says technology advances exponentially every 18 months, meaning things are only going to get more advanced. Because of this, the world will change a lot during your lifetime. One of the biggest changes we may see in the next few decades is the widespread adoption of driverless cars.
While this technology is on its way, there are a lot of details to work out. There are safety concerns as to how self-driving cars will work in certain scenarios. Since driverless cars are still at least a few years away, for now all we can really discuss are the potential pros and cons they’ll bring with them.
Pros of Self-Driving Cars
It’s hard to believe, but according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2010, there are nearly 5.5 million car accidents per year in the United States. This translates to one death every 15 minutes, or around 88 per day. The craziest part of all this is that 81% of those 5.5 million car accidents are caused by human error.
People make mistakes. They’re prone to poor judgment and are easily distracted. While a self-driving car may not be perfect, the hope is they will be far less flawed than a human driver. This could lead to the biggest pro: a massive reduction in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.
Again, autonomous cars probably won’t be perfect, but the computers they use to calculate things like stopping distance and proximity to other vehicles will make them much more reliable than a human. And, unlike people, computers can’t be distracted by other passengers, cell phones or the radio. Additionally, driverless cars have a lot of other pros to consider:
- According to the United States Department of Transportation, a human life is worth $9.2 million when insurance and healthcare costs are considered. Driverless cars would reduce vehicular deaths and bring these totals down.
- Autonomous cars would save people time by improving the flow of traffic and allowing passengers to make phone calls, read, or catch up on work.
- Once driverless cars are the norm, traffic jams, commute times, and gas usage would all decrease.
- Widespread adoption of autonomous cars would also mean that speed limits could be raised.
- Nobody would need to own a driverless car. Instead a “car share” system could be implemented that would allow several families to share one vehicle. This would also mean vehicle maintenance costs could be shared.
- Drunk driving accidents would no longer occur, saving thousands of innocent lives.
- Police would no longer need to spend time writing traffic tickets and could focus on more important crimes.
- You’d no longer have to drive around to find a parking place. A driverless car could drop you off, find its own parking spot, and come back to pick you up when you’re ready.
- Those with disabilities affecting their ability to drive would no longer have to rely on others or public transportation.
- Similarly, driverless cars can prevent situations where drivers could have an accident caused by a medical event (seizure, stroke, etc.). An autonomous car could monitor passengers, pull over, and call 9-1-1 if needed.
Cons of Self-Driving Cars
There are plenty of ways driverless cars could improve our lives. That said, there are some downsides. The number one con would have to be the number of jobs that would be lost to autonomous vehicles.
Regardless of whether you owned a self-driving car or shared one with others, you would never need to call a cab. Taxi companies, Uber, Lyft, and other ride share services might fire their drivers and replace their fleet with self driving cars.
Once autonomous cars are perfected, autonomous semi-trucks will likely be next. Trucking companies would no longer need to hire and train drivers. The 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. would be out of work.
Then there are the police officers to consider. Widespread adoption of driverless cars could mean that police departments would simply hire less officers instead of assigning former traffic cops to new departments. Police departments would lose the revenue they make from traffic tickets.
Last but not least, the gas industry would lose revenue, especially if autonomous vehicles were 100% electric. This will not only be a problem in the United States, but around the world, as the millions of people who work in the fossil fuel industry are slowly made obsolete.
Along with lost jobs, there are several other downsides to self-driving cars to consider:
- The automobile industry could suffer. Driverless cars may mean that car manufacturers make fewer models and less cars, resulting in fewer jobs and less choice for the consumer.
- Self-driving cars may be able to handle themselves, but owners/users would probably still need to complete special training to ensure they know how to operate an autonomous vehicle safely.
- The cost of a self-driving car would be substantially higher than your average vehicle. This cost would go down over time, but in the beginning the high price could be prohibitive for many people.
- Driverless cars will depend heavily on computers, making them more vulnerable to hackers and other cyber threats than today’s cars.
- To reap the benefits of reduced traffic and accidents, driverless cars need to be widely adopted. Until that happens, even a mixture of regular cars and driverless cars will not achieve much, if any, reduction in accident statistics.
- Another concern is that a driverless car will collect information from its passengers, like credit card and other personal info. They could even be programmed to record everything that goes on inside the car, making some people worried about their privacy.
- Determining fault in an accident would be difficult as it could be blamed on the passengers, software engineers, manufacturers, etc.
- The self-driving cars that are currently being developed will work just fine in normal driving conditions, but they can’t handle inclement weather very well.
- Within a few decades, there would be entire generations of people who are unable to drive a non-autonomous vehicle.
- Driverless cars would depend on GPS mapping to get around. Our GPS here in the States may be pretty good, but other parts of the world aren’t so lucky.
The Future of Self-Driving Cars
We don’t know exactly how long it will be until 100% driverless cars are on the market. Google has been working on their version for a while now, and says that it wants to have an autonomous car on the market by 2018. Lexus, Mercedes, Tesla, Audi, and Nissan are also coming up with a functional self-driving vehicle. It may seem unbelievable, but some experts even think there will be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020.
The future of driverless cars looks promising, but there are some kinks that have to be worked out. For example, during the transition from regular cars to all autonomous vehicles, driverless cars would need to be able to “see” traffic signals. This could be achieved by traffic lights being programmed to send out an electronic signal to the car, but what if the traffic light is broken or the power is out and a police officer is directing traffic? How would a driverless car handle that situation?
Programmers also need to come up with a way to protect autonomous cars from hackers and viruses. Solutions would need to be found in regards to driving in snowy, icy, or rainy conditions. And eventually, the companies who are not creating autonomous vehicles are going to fight against those who are.
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars. While they could save time and lives, they could put people out of work and companies out of business. Whether they’re a good idea or not remains to be seen but, like it or not, they’re on their way.