Self-driving cars may be on the roads sooner that you think. But are drivers prepared to give up the wheel?
Last week the Obama administration released new rules governing self-driving cars. Early efforts at drafting rules left the industry unsatisfied because it would have still required a licenced driver in the car. However, the future of driverless cars is a complete redesign that features vehicles without floor pedals or steering wheels. That appears to be the direction government is now going. That means once you’re in one of these cars, your life will be in its hands. Turns out you will probably be safer that way.
I interviewed William Messner, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Tufts University, about how quickly the roads will be taken over by driverless cars. He has a $10 running bet with colleagues that these cars will be in all major cities and in regular use by 2025. His only worry about losing the bet is he thinks it may happen even sooner.
I heard from listeners who raised all sorts of issue about why a driverless car might not work: GPS satellite technology is sketchy and the car would get lost, the winter driving conditions in Calgary will mess with the sensors, computerized systems are inherently unreliable, you need a system override in the case of danger. Also, what happens when the car has to make a judgment call to avoid a collision with another vehicle: how will it decide what to do?
The fact of the matter is that whatever the traffic problem – speeding, wintery road conditions, road rage, congestion, collisions, stalls, intoxication – human error is at the root of most accidents. As one listener put it: “Here’s what I don’t get. Human-driven cars cause hundreds of crashes and injuries every single day, and yet we seem be saying we can’t go to driverless cars unless they’re perfect. The fact is the computer will make a better, faster, more informed decision in 99.99% of emergency situations resulting in the lowest risk of injury. This is why they must be built without accessible controls because having a human intervene will only make things worse.”
It’s a sobering fact that if you take out the human element out of driving you will reduce accidents and save lives. The future is here. Are you ready for it?
Listen to my full interview with Professor William Messner below as well as a video that describes why driverless cars are better than the alternative. If you want to weigh in, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.