When will self-driving cars become the norm?
Monday, November 21, 2016
The most difficult part of vehicle safety is to ensure the person behind the wheel is at his or her best while driving. Human error continues to be a significant factor in traffic fatalities.
Experienced drivers have been shown to be safer drivers who make fewer errors in judgment than younger drivers, but experience is not the only factor. Issues such as fatigue, emotional distress, distractions and more cause even the most experienced driver to have a lapse in judgment.
Self-driving cars are hailed as the panacea for these problems, but they're still far off in the future, right? Not so fast.
Australia already has self-driving trucks making deliveries. Australian mining company Rio Tinto operates a fleet of self-driving trucks hauling ore from mines to ore processing centers that have been in operation for more than a year.
Uber just completed the first autonomous beer delivery in partnership with Budweiser. Self-driving buses are already in use in China and Europe. And Elon Musk's Tesla vehicles have already completed more than 1 million hours of driving in self-piloting mode.
In fact, Musk is so sure self-piloting cars are coming soon that he already announced the creation of a proprietary network to manage ridesharing of their self-piloting vehicles. Tesla plans to use this network to allow people to rent out their self-driving vehicles to drive people around. Although the Tesla network was not created as a competitor to Uber and Lyft, a fleet of self-driving vehicles could be competition for these ride-sharing companies.
The technology has arrived, but legislators have not bothered to look closely at this transportation situation. Since there is no legislation to direct car manufacturers regarding self-driving vehicles, car makers are taking matters into their hands.
Mercedes-Benz has announced their self-driving cars will prioritize car occupant safety over all other concerns. This decision means that if a self-driving car is faced with the decision to hit a pedestrian or crash and potentially kill its occupants, the self-driving car will hit the pedestrian every time.
Although legislators think vehicles should be designed to save more than just the occupants' lives in a self-driving car, no one has gotten around to making legislation to protect pedestrians. Some experts think self-driving programming needs to add a survivability factor to its decision making.
For example, if a self-driving car had a choice between hitting a motorcyclist or to crash, the choice would depend upon car occupant survivability. Perhaps the car should crash because its occupants would likely survive a lower-speed crash, while a car hitting a motorcyclist at a high speed would likely kill the motorcyclist. Clearly, this situation relies on ethical decision making.
The lack of legislation will impact buyers of self-driving vehicles. It will be difficult to change a self-driving car's programming after the fact. Once those self-driving cars are on the road, changing the hardware and software might become expensive to do retroactively.
It will also be notoriously difficult to create after-the-fact legislation as more laws will grandfather in equipment that already exists. After all, one can purchase a classic car without an airbag, and no one is going to require the owner to add the airbag.
Ultimately, self-driving cars are here. They are going to become the standard a lot sooner than people are expecting. They will become the norm and will be coming to an intersection near you.
Legislation needs to be created to catch up with technology. No legislation is going to put the technological genie back in the bottle. The sooner nations set forth clear legislation to govern self-piloting vehicles, the better off drivers and passengers will be.
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