Last week my son and I sat down to watch the first Transformers movie. He thought it was so cool to see real cars driving themselves, which made me think of how that might become a reality shortly, minus them turning into robots. Currently, only California, Florida, Nevada, Washington D.C. and Michigan allow the testing of self-driving cars. There are many debates on the pros and cons of such vehicles, and both sides have valid points.
A huge benefit of having self-driving cars would be the reduction of vehicle accidents. This technology could also help millions of people who, for various reasons, are unable to drive. In the United States alone there are roughly 5.5 million car crashes per year, which equals out to about one death every 15 minutes or 88 deaths per day. Out of those accidents, 81% were caused by human error. As many of these accidents are preventable, and an alarming number of them are a result of distracted driving, speeding, failing to follow road laws, or driving while tired, drunk, or under the influence of drugs. If these human errors could be removed from the equation, then we could see fewer accidents and vehicle-related deaths. It is estimated that if 10% of cars on the road were self-driving, then there would be 211,000 fewer crashes and 1,100 lives saved. If that number increased to 20%, then there would be 4,220,000 fewer crashes and 21,700 lives saved. Other benefits of self-driving cars include the reduction of time spent commuting, road congestion, and a substantial decrease in insurance premiums.
To get an idea of how self-driving cars could soon be a reality, Google already has high functioning prototypes driving around the Silicon Valley. These vehicles have successfully driven over 3,200,500 km with only 11 minor accidents. Seven involved another vehicle rear-ending the Google car, two were sideswipes, and one involved another vehicle travelling through a red light. This is very impressive after you factor in that the average motorist drives about 25,000 km a year.
There are some downfalls to self-driving cars, one of which is the most dangerous, the security of the vehicle’s software. The possibility of a car being hacked and taken control of is a very serious and concerning issue, especially when there is so much cyber insecurity. This also spirals into the safety of the user’s privacy, as self-driving cars would rely on collecting and sharing location whereabouts and other data. Another problematic issue involves different weather conditions. Heavy rain can interfere with the car’s roof-mounted laser sensor, and snow-covered roads can affect the vehicle’s cameras. Other concerns include the loss of jobs, such as taxi and freight transport drivers.
No one knows if there will be more pros than cons if self-driving cars become a reality but for now, we will all just have to wait and see where the road to self-driving cars leads us.