The Need for Self-Driving Cars - Vol.364
Road safety is a topic that comes up frequently in the media, and for good reasons. Just in the U.S. alone, more than 30,000 people die annually in car accidents, many of them becoming a victim of distracted driving. To reduce accidents, the industry has been pushing for new and innovative safety technologies.
Many cars are now equipped with some sort of reactive and responsive technology and partial automation is already present. These features work really well, but more and more experts think that the end goal should be total automation-- and the worldwide implementation of self-driving cars.
There are a number of potential issues that surround self-driving cars, issues that could slow down or completely halt the worldwide implementation of automated vehicles. The first issue is knowledge. When you obtain your license, you gain the ability to drive a traditional car. You get to know about the engine, rules and regulations, and you gain experience as a learner-driver.
Once self-driving cars become available, the authorities will have to come up with an educational plan which no doubt will be expensive, and we haven't even talked about whether drivers will be willing to learn or not.
The second issue is price. If and when these cars come out, the price will almost certainly be out of reach for most people, and that could slow down the revolution. With all the technical and software requirements, the entry price could be around $100,000. Not to mention that if the technology isn't widespread, its main benefits wouldn't even materialize, and accidents would still happen.
The last major issue is security. Hackers already target modern cars with on-board computers that can link to a network, and they would certainly do the same to self-driving cars. We are not talking about deliberately causing an accident although that could happen as well, but rather stealing the car and one's personal data.
The most important advantage of self-driving cars would be eliminating human error. We display a remarkable amount of dangerous and downright idiotic driving habits, including going too fast, overtaking other cars under bad visibility, texting while driving, and operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol. These habits are widespread, and with the implementation of self-driving cars, their impact could be minimized.
The truth is that we are nowhere near as good at making quick decisions as a computer. A machine can determine stopping distance much more efficiently, and it can initiate braking almost instantly. Not just that, but a computer doesn't get distracted, which is the leading cause of accidents today.
Another advantage would directly come from saving lives. The U.S. Department of Transportation actually calculated the economic worth of a human life in the United States, and it's over $9 million. It means that the average citizen can contribute that much towards society and the economy during his or her lifetime. If lives are spared thanks to self-driving cars, those people can continue to earn money for the country, raising the economic standard in the process. Just the savings in insurance costs would be significant.
In addition to all that, traffic conditions could also improve, if self-driving cars become readily available. Once enough people use them, the cars together could create an effect called "platooning". They would keep the right distance on most roads, and since accidents will be eliminated, the traffic would flow.
The benefits could one day outgrow the potential downfalls, but only if self-driving cars become as common as normal cars are today, which requires the technology to become cheap and be readily available.