Why I Don’t Want a Self Driving Car

BreakingModern — Self driving cars are inevitable, and I know it. We’ve all seen the commercials on TV and the Internet about luxury sports cars that can parallel park for you and lock themselves automatically, and that’s just the beginning.

Google Self-Driving Care cuteAs I write this, several auto manufacturers including Tesla Motors, Google and Nissan have made it clear that they will put a self driving car on our highways and byways by the year 2020. In Great Britain, the first driverless cars are hitting the roads beginning in January, 2015. Nissan started test-driving driverless cars in Japan in 2013. And Volvo is to begin testing 100 driverless cars in Sweden in 2017.

What does the future look like for these robot cars? Well, many leading engineers at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict that 75 percent of all cars on the road — at least in the United States — will be self driving by the year 2040.

Indeed, General Motors has serious plans to get cars with what it calls “Super Cruise” technology on our roads in 2017. These cars would be partially self driving, with a human rider able to instantly take over if his car gets into a tricky or congested traffic situation. Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, said in early September of 2014:

“We’re rolling out active safety technology today. We’re not going to wait until we have a driverless vehicle that can work in 100 percent of situations. There’s a lot that can be done before we get to the perfect driverless technology.”

That’s not all. Google has already test-driven driverless cars for approximately 700,000 miles all across the United States, with only one car getting into one accident during that whole span — and that one accident happened only because a human driver rear-ended the driverless car. Google’s cars have neither steering wheels nor foot pedals, making them truly autonomous.

Google is the company that has most extensively tested driverless cars thus far. But even 700,000 miles of almost-perfect safety doesn’t quite add up to driverless technology being ready to replace humans yet. Stanford University law professor Bryant Walker Smith tells us:

“Google’s cars would need to drive themselves more than 725,000 representative miles without incident for us to say with 99 percent confidence that they crash less frequently than conventional cars.”

Google Self-driving Car crash

But it certainly looks now as if Google is going to succeed.

Why Are Self-driving Cars a Good Idea?

Realistic urban simulations of driverless vehicles summoned by apps have been run by researchers at the University of Texas. In the simulations riders waited, on average, a mere 18 seconds for a self-driving car to stop by and pick them up. Each car was used by 31 to 41 different people each day. Researchers concluded that every shared driverless car could replace 11 human-driven cars.

The Texas simulations and other research lead us to conclude:

  • Shared driverless cars would unclog congestion and free up a tremendous amount of urban space that today is reserved for parking (including parking lots and side-of-the-road parking spaces). A shared self driving car could still have one nominal owner who would ultimately be responsible for it.
  • Driverless cars could give new freedom to the disabled, those of advanced age and those who today would be too young to legally drive.
  • Drunk driving and all concerns related to it would (in theory) vanish.
  • Instead of taking up their time and focus with driving, navigating and negotiating sometimes dangerous traffic, riders in cars could do some work, kick back, listen to music, play games, talk on their cell phones and so on.
  • Presumably, the advanced sensors and AI in driverless cars would make them vastly safer to ride in than today’s safest cars. Presently, approximately 90 percent of all car accidents are the result of human error, and those accidents cost Americans $230 billion annually — not to mention killing 32,000 U.S. citizens per year.
  • With such computerized “reflexes” and sensors doing the driving, many more cars could be packed together on roads and highways at the same time — meaning that our road spaces would be used to full capacity, unlike today.
  • The super-advanced safety and efficiency of self driving cars would mean that they could be built from far lighter, and fewer, materials and use far less fuel, freeing up more resources and drastically reducing pollution.
  • Most road signs, all traffic lights, and perhaps even sidewalks could be done away with — diminishing “urban blight.”
  • Also, no more speeding tickets — speed limits would become a thing of the primitive past, which would give people greater freedom and diminish the potential for government and police tyranny.

Man, that sounds like a glowingly thrilling future for automobile travel, doesn’t it?

london lights self-driving car

No, I Don’t Want a Self Driving Car

I wouldn’t mind having a car like an advanced version of the GM models with Super Cruise tech — in fact, I would find that quite exciting. As long as I can switch over to manual control like Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing, I’m cool with a robot car. But a vehicle like Google’s prototypes, without steering wheels or foot pedals or any human control except destination command? No thank you.

Why not? Let me play Devil’s Romantic and explicate:

  • Many of us love to drive. We love the romance of the open road and the feeling that we are in command of a great power that gives us a miraculous freedom. I suspect this is why motorcyclists love motorcycles, and why many wealthy people choose to drive themselves instead of having a chauffeur.
  • Totally autonomous cars would be open to hacking. Imagine a malicious mind hacking into the AI of the car that’s driving you. Disaster.
  • An autonomous car might be susceptible to instant takeover by some remote government monitor, oppressing us with tyranny disguised as liberty. There are far too many humans who are going to shout for the heavy-handed regulation of self driving cars, and those with the power are going to be quick to agree to it.
  • All systems eventually break down, even the very best. Imagine a lightweight car traveling at high speeds on a packed highway when its systems falter and it careens out of control, with you riding in it. Thanks, but no thanks. If I’m going to die a horrible death in a car accident, at least I want to know at the very end that it was my own action that killed me.
  • Too many of these fully autonomous cars would be tiny and boxy in the name of a lower price tag. I wouldn’t want to be seen in one of those things! Besides, in the event of a systems breakdown, they become a tiny box of death.
  • So much sharing of a vehicle readily opens itself to interior negligence by immature or careless riders — the automotive tragedy of the commons.
  • What if an AI-driven car starts thinking for itself (a form of malfunction) and decides it doesn’t like its human rider or riders? Big trouble.
  • Are most of the owners of autonomous cars really going to want to share it on a regular basis with as many as 41 other people (including 14 year olds)? Sure, some will — but I don’t think that most people will.

So, am I a hopeless romantic or a romantic realist? Time will tell. For the time being, it’s up to you to decide.

For BMod, I’m .

First image: Google Self-Driving Car” by smoothgroover22 via Flickr Creative Commons

Second image/Feature: Google self-driving car” by Becky Stern via Flickr Creative Commons

Third image/Header: London Bus Lightspeed” by Simon & His Camera via Flickr Creative Commons

Brant David

Author: Brant David

Based in New Jersey, Brant David covers sports and tech lifestyle at BreakingModern. Follow him on Twitter at @mabriant

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