From the invention of the wheel to the development of the internal combustion engine, we humans have used technology to better our lives and make work somewhat easier. Today, this ingenuity is reflected in Elon Musk’s desire to drive humanity forward with his autonomous car design, with companies such as Google, Uber, and Lyft in hot pursuit. According to his estimates, by the year 2019, driverless cars will reach the highest level of autonomy, level 5, effectively allowing ‘drivers’ to sleep during voyages. Yet, with this inevitable arrival of autonomous cars, we must now ask ourselves whether placing our lives in the hands of such contraptions is actually worth it. So, fasten your seatbelt and let’s take a tour of some of the pros and cons of self-driving cars.

The benefits:

1. Improved road safety

According to statistics, 81% of all car accidents are a result of human error. Hence, by removing the human factor out of the equation, autonomous cars will greatly reduce the 6.3 million car accidents per year that occur in the US alone due to reckless driving habits. In fact, Google’s self-driving cars have already successfully driven some 700,000 miles accident-free, which is what the average motorist makes in 47 years. This is all due to the new sensor technology that allows the driverless car to scan its surroundings while at the same time making hundreds of precise calculations on its on-board computer; including the target distance, the current speed, GPS location, and so on.

2. Allocation of space in urban centers

Nowadays, a large portion of our cities’ residential zones is being wasted on mere parking space. However, with the evolution of autonomous driving, searching for a place to park will be a thing of the past, and tales of such endeavors will serve only as children’s bedtime stories. Namely, self-driving cars, thanks to their excellent traffic flow coordination, could easily drop off passengers and circle around blocks until their services are required. Likewise, due to their compact nature, there would be little to no traffic congestion during this period, allowing large urban centers to turn all that allocated parking space into useful public areas such as parks and pedestrian zones.

3. Greener environment, greener wallet

The beauty of self-driving cars is that they don’t rely on harmful fossil fuels but instead use electricity as their main power source. This means that they are not only good for the environment but also cheaper to maintain and run. As a result, the price of transportation and shipping will drop significantly due to clean energy usage and the lack of driver salaries. Likewise, due to their efficient driving style, autonomous vehicles take the most optimal route without having to break and re-accelerate excessively, consuming less battery power which means less air pollution.

The disadvantages:

1. Negative impact on the economy

The switch to autonomous cars could have an adverse effect on the economy. For example, as steam power replaced individual workers in the textile industry, driverless cars could do the same with the automobile industry. Meaning, cab drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers won’t be needed anymore as the whole process will become automated. Also, without the need of a driver’s license many driver courses and programs will also cease to exist, leaving even more unemployed people in its wake. Likewise, due to the decrease in accident ratios, car mechanics and insurance companies would also be affected, consequently accounting for the loss of a total of 4 million jobs.

2. Security threats

With the onset of the 4th Industrial Revolution, cybersecurity has become a major topic for debate. We hear of hacking attempts on websites, companies, and mobiles phones on a daily basis. So, what’s it to say that the same won’t happen to autonomous cars? In essence, compromising their security in any way could endanger countless lives. Just think about the damage a single hacker could do. Until these issues are met, we cannot say for certain how secure this mode of transportation will be.

3. Legal and ethical dilemmas

Finally, even if we iron out all the technical issues of self-driving cars, there remains the question of liability in the case of accidents. Who will take the blame? The fact of the matter is that we still don’t have the adequate insurance or legal infrastructure in place to take care of such cases. Also, certain instances might arise where the autonomous car would have to decide who dies. For example, should it crash the car to save a careless pedestrian or run him over to preserve the lives of the passengers at all costs?

 

Thus, even though self-driving cars have come a long way, some things still require fixing before making the final lap and reaching the finish line.

Posted by Elaine Bennett