The future is now— or at least very, very near! Self-driving cars sound like an invention out of a science fiction movie, but they are in fact much closer to becoming a reality than you might think. Google, for example, has been working on an autonomous car project since 2009, and its driverless vehicles have clocked over 1.7 million miles on the road. Popular auto manufacturer Ford aims to mass-produce self-driving cars by 2021. What was once a futuristic fantasy is becoming more of a possibility with each passing year.
But are self-driving vehicles a good thing or a bad thing? While there is no certain consensus about the use of driverless cars, there are a number of arguments both for and against putting them on the roads en masse. Here are just a few of the many pros and cons of self-driving vehicles.
- No danger of human error. By running through complicated algorithms that determine stopping distance, distance from another vehicle, and other important vehicle operations, self-driving cars virtually eliminate the dangers of driving. Each year in the U.S., 5.5 million car crashes occur, resulting in 88 deaths per day. Eighty-one percent of those crashes are attributed to human error, a leading cause of which is simply distraction. Cars driven by computers, which don’t get distracted, would drastically lower the dangers presented by human drivers.
- Less congestion. With self-driving cars producing far less accidents, congestion on commutes could potentially be greatly lessened. In addition to less accidents clogging the roadway, all driverless vehicles would possess the ability to communicate with one another through signals, which would eliminate the need for traffic lights and frequent stops. A more synchronized driving pattern means getting to destinations faster, with less traffic headaches!
- Big savings for businesses. Without the need for human drivers, businesses could potentially save billions of dollars using self-driving vehicles. Because driving and speed are regulated by a computer, driverless cars— especially trucks used to transport products across the miles— will operate at their top fuel efficiency. Not only that, but driverless cars won’t need to stop for eating, sleeping, and other necessities like a human driver would, saving businesses both money and time. It’s been estimated that if only 20% of vehicles were driverless, it would result in an economic savings of $109.7 billion dollars, and in 724 million gallons of fuel savings!
- Better parking possibilities. Parking seems to be a problem almost any place where there are cars and people. Especially in very populated cities, the cost of parking can be exorbitant, not to mention the upkeep necessary to maintain multiple parking garage facilities and parking meters. With the help of self-driving cars, you’d no longer have to contend with parking woes; your car would drop you off at a location, and then find itself a parking spot farther away. With cars that can drive themselves until they find available parking spaces, less garage space would be needed to accommodate vehicles. Then when you’re ready to leave, your car would come right to you!
- More free time for humans. Think about how many minutes a day or hours per week you spend commuting to work, running errands, or otherwise traveling. Now imagine all the things you could do if even half that time was available to do as you pleased! Without the need for people to drive themselves, the time they spend in cars can now be spent on more valuable or leisurely activities like reading, watching movies, or finishing paperwork. And since driverless cars should theoretically get you to your destination faster, you also spend less time in the car each day, giving you more time for life off of the highway.
- Very expensive. Self-driving cars will require a lot more technology in order to function properly. While they sound like an awesome feat of vehicle innovation, that innovation comes with a high price tag. With the software, sensors, engineering, and computer function necessary to make a car self-driving, the current cost estimate to purchase one is over $100,000!
- Huge loss of jobs for drivers. In America alone, putting driverless cars on the road would mean the loss of over 5 million jobs. While businesses may see higher profits because they no longer need to employ human drivers, those drivers, making up 3% of the workforce, could fall on hard times with the loss of work. Drivers of trucks, taxis, public buses, vans, limousines, Uber, and more would see their jobs in jeopardy with the introduction of driverless vehicles.
- Implosion of insurance companies. While other businesses may see more money and higher savings using self-driving vehicles, one industry that would take a hit is the car insurance industry. With less risk of accidents and human error, insurance premiums would be significantly reduced— which is great for consumers but terrible for insurance companies. The personal insurance sector is estimated to shrink down by 60% of its current size within 25 years of self-driving cars hitting the market, meaning more huge job loss.
- Unknown fault in event of an accident. Another issue insurance companies would need to contend with is determining fault in the event of an accident. Though self-driving car accidents should be rare occurrences, even the best technology can still fail. Should an accident arise, the question becomes, who is at fault? Do you blame the car manufacturer, the owner of the car, the computer programmer, or some other party? While fault would most likely come to rest on the manufacturer, accident fault is still a gray area when it comes to driverless vehicles.
- Weather concerns. While driverless cars will be highly intelligent machines, one concern they may not be able to account for is adverse weather conditions. Because self-driving cars will rely on sensors to do much of their driving, they’ll be alerted to slow down in bad weather. However, if bad weather— whether heavy snow, hail, or even rain— knocks out a car’s sensors, there is currently no failsafe to prevent an accident in the face of technology failing. In addition, if a road is covered in snow, or visibility is reduced for some other reason, a self-driving car won’t be as readily able to detect its position on the roadway, resulting in a driving hazard. Bad weather conditions are one flaw in the autonomous car industry that still needs to be resolved.
Whether you hold with the pros or with the cons, it’s clear that self-driving cars are going to be a revolutionary auto development, in one way or another. What do you think about the future possibility of driverless vehicles?