Self Driving Cars And How They Can Change Transportation

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It has long been anticipated that autonomous vehicles would emerge into the transportation industry. With technology advancing as rapidly as it is today, it is difficult to ignore the reality that artificial intelligence and automation is beginning to take over. Some self driving car manufacturers such as Tesla have already released vehicles that offer driverless capabilities, and it will not be long before all manufacturers have autonomous cars on the market. Other companies such as Uber, Google, and almost all production car manufacturers are currently testing driverless vehicles and preparing them for sale. Those opposing self driving cars claim they will cause more accidents because of limited control and the ability for them to be hacked. There are also concerns over consumers being unwilling to get into self driving cars, as well as legal issues of assigning blame if accidents occur.

The main concern of those opposing self driving cars is safety. Since the invention of the automobile people have had total control of the vehicle, and now people are giving that control over to a computer program. This is a quite understandable fear as technology malfunctions all the time which could cause fatal accidents. This is especially worrisome since some predict self-driving cars could cause speed limits to increase. If this becomes a reality, it is obvious that accidents at higher speeds will be more dangerous than they already are.

People are not willing to place their lives in the hands of a machine because if anything goes wrong, they could lose their lives. A survey shows 64% of US adults would not buy a self-driving car. Also, 63% of adults would not pay extra money for these advanced features (Willingness to Purchase). This is important for companies to consider because they are putting time and money into researching and developing autonomous driving technology, and more than half of the consumers will not buy them. Another article in the Washington Post interviewed people about Uber’s self driving car concept. One woman said, “It’s scary, being driven by a robot, a person who’s driving knows what he’s doing or where he’s going. That gives me confidence” (Uber’s biggest challenge). In general people are not comfortable with being in driverless vehicles because they take away the ability for direct control in the event of malfunction.

Driverless vehicles will use a lot of new technology to function effectively. Like any computer, this technology could be remotely accessed and tampered with. There is nothing stopping from hackers from sending a car into a wall or simply tracking one’s location without them knowing. Self-driving cars open a door to new forms of cyberattack and invasion of privacy. There is nothing stopping hackers from launching attacks targeting self driving cars which could cause casualties on a massive scale. Vehicles transporting celebrities, politicians and other important people could be targeted as well, and there would be little time to react once a car is sent off the road. Even if harming the individuals is not the intent, simply tracking their locations or watching where they travel can also be done. Autonomous driving software must be able to defend against those trying to wrongfully access them.

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Another dilemma with autonomous vehicles is deciding who to blame if an accident occurs. If no one is controlling the vehicle then it is difficult to figure out who is responsible. There are arguments that the manufacturer should be held responsible because it is their software that is faulty, but others claim it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure there are no problems with the vehicle. There would have to be some kind of agreement between the vehicle owners and manufacturers that specifies who is to blame in different circumstances. Lastly, self-driving cars would put drivers out of a job. A study by the White House shows a total of 3.7 million jobs are threatened by automated vehicles (Jobs Threatened by). This figure includes drivers of all vehicles including farming equipment, school buses, and self-employed drivers. Uber drivers are worried about their jobs if self-driving cars become more popular. One person said, “I think it's going to take jobs away from some of us. It's going to take away from the actual drivers that are out here that are putting in the time and the hours” (Uber’s biggest challenge).

The most important aspect of any vehicle is safety. No one is going to feel comfortable riding in a car that is unsafe. The well-being of the passengers is the number one priority when traveling. Self-driving cars do not get distracted by the surroundings, and they do not text and drive. Since there is no human driver, there would be no road rage or dangerous driving habits. A study done by the RAND corporation shows, “the sooner highly automated vehicles are deployed, the more lives will ultimately be saved, even if the cars are just slightly safer than cars driven by humans” (Stewart). Humans get distracted while driving, the slightest loss of focus can be fatal while on the road, and self-driving cars can end this. In 2017, there was a fatality for every 100 million miles driven (Stewart). This may not sound like much, but there are 1.25 million driving related deaths per year globally. Most of these accidents are due to distracted driving, and slow reaction times people naturally have.

Slow reactions not only cause accidents but are also the main reason behind congested roads. When there are many cars on the road, people tend to slow down to allow themselves more time to react to the car in front of them. This is very noticeable on highways especially where, “one lane is capable of moving 2,200 vehicles per hour at 60 miles per hour” (O’Toole). A computer can react to its surroundings much quicker than any human can, which would allow for more vehicles to travel without having to slow down in anticipation of stopping. When one person slows down, it causes all the drivers behind them to slow down in a wave. Driverless cars would be able to move more efficiently with virtually no areas where traffic is slowed down. Instead of the 2,200 cars per hour, almost 8,000 vehicles could pass in the same time period if the distances between them could be safely reduced (O’Toole).

If drivers spend more time driving and less time sitting in traffic, fuel efficiency is increased while emissions are decreased. Fuel consumption and emissions are related, so decreasing fuel consumption also decreases emissions. Our environment is greatly affected by the number of cars on the road today. The average passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year assuming it drives 11,500 miles per year and gets 22 miles per gallon (Greenhouse Gas Emissions). There are also hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles that are more efficient than regular gas powered cars. These can be misleading though because the electricity used to power the vehicles come from burning fossil fuels which has its own pollution. According to a study, the best speed for lowest carbon dioxide emissions is between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Anywhere below that, the car spends most of the time idling which is not efficient, while above these speeds the engine requires more fuel which means more emissions (Barth).

Humans are far from perfect, especially when it comes to driving. If driverless cars replace regular cars, there would be a significantly lower number of accidents. The National Safety Council reports that texting and driving causes 1.6 million accidents every year with about 390,000 injuries as a result (Edgar Snyder & Associates). Texting and driving causes more accidents than any other distraction. Autonomous cars do not get “distracted” on the road because there are constant inputs being sent to the system’s computer than makes adjustments to the vehicles direction and speed. In addition to less accidents, the dangerous driving habits some drivers exhibit would also be eliminated with driverless vehicles. These include speeding and road rage which increases the likelihood of accidents especially at higher speeds.

Autonomous cars not only make driving safer, but also allow handicapped people to ride alone in cars when they would not have been able to before. Anyone who is visually or physically impaired can simply set a destination and relax as they are driven there. Driverless vehicles would remove the need for extra services for handicapped people, and allow them to travel on their own if they wanted to. Those who are not impaired, could get more done in the car as well. Americans spend an average of an hour a day behind the wheel of a car. If they did not need to worry about driving, they could be doing more important things or simply relaxing as they travel. This technology would make people more productive, one could make calls and do work safely from their vehicles. Students could finish homework while they go to and from class. In emergency vehicles, an extra pair of hands in a crisis could be the difference in saving lives. There is no limit to what could be done if people no longer had to drive.

Fully autonomous cars are still being developed, but the future looks promising for everyday drivers. There is validity to the arguments against this technology, because it is very new and people are reluctant to test new technology until it is certified to be safe. Any time technology is created to replace people it is quite scary, but there are good reasons behind it. Today, there is a technology that can outperform people, and on the road a computer can make safer and quicker decisions than any human. In the future when self-driving cars do take over, it will be a great advance in driver safety. 

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