YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
Adam Ozimek is
an economist with
to DataPoints: The
blog ( economy.com/
Patrick Lin is the
director of the Ethics
+ Emerging Sciences
Group at California
University, San Luis
OVER THE LAST decade, self-driving car technology has progressed faster than
expected. As recently as 2004, researchers were arguing that such a dream was
impossible, but today self-driving cars have clocked millions of test miles on the
road and most major car companies are investing seriously in the technology. While
big, fast technological changes can instill fear, the self-driving-car revolution promises massive economic benefits.
Safety will be one of the most important benefits. While early reports have
shown that self-driving cars do get into accidents, it’s almost exclusively a result of
other, human drivers. As self-driving cars replace humans behind the wheel, accident rates will plummet, and so will the massive costs they impose.
In 2013, there were 5. 7 million vehicle crashes that resulted in 32,719 deaths
and 2. 3 million injuries. If self-driving cars prevented all these crashes, it would save
an estimated $500 billion a year.
Thirty-one percent of fatal crashes are designated as “alcohol impaired,” and 10
percent involved a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration. Even if self-driving cars only work as well as nondistracted,
sober humans, one-third or more of all crashes should be preventable, saving over
Beyond health and safety, self-driving cars will allow people to focus on something other than driving, such as reading a book or napping, while riding in the car.
Self-driving cars will also bring freedom to millions of seniors and disabled people
who can’t drive and must rely on others for transportation.
Critics argue that self-driving cars will never work, but that’s shortsighted. Yes,
they will require social, political and infrastructure changes. For example, we may
need to use traffic signs that are more easily “read” by robotic vision. But these
changes are minor compared with those that were needed to move from horses to
automobiles, or compared with building the interstate highway system.
We will adapt, and the economic benefits will be huge. C
I’M NOT AGAINST autonomous driving technologies. But I believe our expectations are overblown, taking our eyes off the potholes ahead.
Yes, there could be a lot of benefits from self-driving cars, but it’s too early to
tell whether and how far these benefits will play out. Even experts disagree on these
predictions. For instance, if road travel becomes extremely easy, people could take
more trips, and this could increase traffic and fuel consumption, not reduce them.
Already, there are real worries about safety and ethics. For instance, not all
crashes may be avoidable, as a matter of physics and technology limitations. If a
robot car were to get in an accident in self-driving mode, it’s unclear who’d be liable
for damages. Would it be the manufacturer, the programmer, the car’s owner—or
maybe the car itself? Likely, everyone will get sued in early legal disputes, and it’ll
Manufacturers are still working on the hand-off problem—the issue of when
control of the car is handed back to the human driver in emergency cases. If there’s
not enough time to hand off control to an unprepared driver, or too much time, bad
things can happen, and the manufacturers may still be liable.
Until cars can drive themselves 100 percent of the time—not just 99 percent or
even 99.999 percent—a licensed driver will still be needed for tricky situations. This
means we won’t see the mobility benefits promised for disabled folks, the elderly
and the young.
Off in the distance, in-car apps and services mean monetizing the interior of
your car with new advertising schemes. Driverless cars might mean a lot less city
revenue from speeding tickets and other moving violations, which means less
money for firefighting and other public services.
There are big questions and unintended disruptions we need to prepare for. It’s
our future, so these are questions for all of us, not just the industry. C
Opinions expressed are those of
the individuals or organizations
represented and are presented
to foster discussion. Costco and
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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