Are We Ready For Self-Driving Vehicles?
Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed on Bob’s Blog are solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of the CAC Office on Aging or its staff.
Ever since Tesla came on the scene several years ago, we have been hearing more and more about self-driving vehicles.
They are the next step in automation – just like the cell phone and computers were. These vehicles have advantages. Here are some:
- People who don’t drive well won’t be behind the wheel. They will leave the driving up to the vehicle
- Most likely there will be far fewer accidents.
- These vehicles will communicate with each other. There will be less congestion on roads.
- People with disabilities, the elderly and the blind will have a way to get around that they don’t have now.
- People will be able to use their time more wisely. They will be able to get more work done since they won’t have to concentrate on driving.
On the Surface, These All Sound Really Good
When I first heard about self-driving vehicles, I was impressed and could hardly wait to see them in action.
As I looked at their development more closely and studied what’s happening, my views of self-driving vehicles changed radically. I don’ t think we are ready for these vehicles now. I don’t know when we will be.
Let Me Explain Why
Currently, a person has to pass a driving test. Before they can pass that test, they have to practice. That’s not true for the self-driving car. There is no test. The assumption is made each of these vehicles will drive better than any human.
Currently Tennessee law does not require a licensed driver to be in a self-driving vehicle. A licensed driver does not even have to be in the vehicle. None of the passengers needs to know how to drive it.
- What happens if the vehicle suddenly starts going erratically?
- Will they know what to do?
- Will they be able to jump behind the wheel and take control?
- Will there even be a steering wheel and a gas and brake pedal?
- What if the riders are in the back seat? Will they have time?
Every self-driving car is built with a variety of sensors collecting data about its surroundings to determine what needs to be done. Will there be enough safeguards in place if any of these suddenly malfunction?
Self-Driving 18 Wheel Tractor Trailers
Self-driving 18 wheel tractor trailers are also being developed. These will travel across the country just like the current ones. A human will not have to be onboard.
These may do great on straight, clear roads.
- How will they respond on steep mountain roads with many curves?
- Will they be able to handle sudden, unexpected snow storms or black ice conditions?
- Will there be an increase in the number of people hurt in traffic accidents when a driverless out of control tractor trailer suddenly starts sliding because of black ice or snow?
An Accident in San Francisco on October 2, 2023
On Monday night, October 2, a lady was crossing a street at an intersection. In the left lane at the traffic light, a car with a driver was stopped. An empty driverless Uber was in the right lane. This car was made by Cruise.
When the light turned green, the car in the left lane moved forward and hit the lady. She rolled off of it and into the path of the Cruise.
The driver of the first car never stopped. They just took off.
The Cruise ran over the lady and pinned her under it. Initially it stopped. Then It attempted to pull to the side of the road to avoid another accident. In the process, it drug the lady another 20 feet.
Prior to this, there were other accidents with Cruise self-driving vehicles. However, none were as severe as this one.
On Tuesday, October 24, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s permits allowing it to operate these self-driving vehicles.
Here Are Three Scenarios to Think About
How will you, I and other drivers react when we first see self-driving vehicles on the road without anyone behind the steering wheel?
Picture this – it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. Interstate 40 is backed up. We see a car or a tractor trailer without a driver. Will we suddenly take our eyes off the road and stare at it? If we do, will we rear end the car in front of us or will the car in back of us hit us?
A self-driving Uber or tractor trailer is going 55 in the center lane in heavy traffic. Suddenly a car in the left lane cuts in front of it. The Uber or the tractor trailer hits its brakes hard, What do you think happens to the vehicles in back of it?
This is not far-fetched, Right now, the cruise control in most new cars automatically adjust the speed to that of the slower cars in front of them. If the cruise control is set and a car unexpectedly pulls right in front of them, there is a hard braking. The driver has to take control quickly to avoid being rear-ended.
What would happen if this is a self-driving car and the only passenger or passengers are in the back seat?
A person arranges for an Uber to take them to McGhee Tyson at 6:30 one morning. 2 days before, 2 inches of snow fall. It melts. In most areas the pavement is still wet. However, right down the street from the traveler’s house, there is a wooded area. The snow has been replaced by ice. The Uber doesn’t sense this. It hits the icy section and slides off the road into a tree.
The Potential of Computer Hackers Hacking the Computer Systems
We live in an age where computer hackers regularly hack into many different computer systems. These self-driving vehicles rely on the computer systems built into them. How long will it be before hackers hack into their systems? What type of havoc will that cause?
Motor Vehicle Accidents
For car accidents right now, law enforcement and insurance companies determine who is at fault. The insurance company of the person at fault pays the costs associated with the accident.
Who’s at fault when a self-driving vehicle is in an accident?
- Is it the vehicle manufacturer?
- Did some software fail and is it the fault of its developer?
- Was there a driver and did they take it out of self-drive mode?
- Was the system hacked and is the hacker responsible?
Determining liability becomes even more complex when there is an accident between 2 self-driving vehicles. How’s the determination made where the fault lies when there is no one to say?
Loss of Jobs
One other thing most people don’t realize is many jobs will be lost because of self-driving cars and tractor trailers.
In the last 5 years many people have relied on Uber and Lyft to take them places. Both companies and others like Instacart and Door Dash also deliver meals and groceries. All of the people driving for these companies are in danger of losing their jobs.
The majority of traffic on interstates and major highways is tractor trailers. If these are automated, all of these drivers will lose their jobs.
2022 Article on Driverless Cars by the Pew Research Center
On October 24, 2022, the Pew Research Center published an article, “Older Americans more wary than younger adults about prospect of driverless cars on the road.” In this article, they commented on a survey they did about how people felt about driverless cars.
Here are some of their findings:
- When asked about the broad impact driverless cars could have, 53% of those 50 and older say the widespread use of such vehicles would be a bad idea for society, compared with a smaller share (37%) of adults ages 18 to 49.
- Those 50 and older are also more likely than younger adults to say the widespread use of driverless cars would increase the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents (31% vs. 23%).
- The survey also measured people’s comfort toward the technology on a personal level. About three-quarters of those ages 50 and older (74%) say they would definitely or probably not want to ride in a driverless passenger vehicle, while 52% of adults under 50 say the same.
- This age pattern persists when looking at people’s comfort levels in sharing the road with a driverless car. More than half of those 50 and older (57%) say they would be not at all or not too comfortable sharing the road with one, compared with 34% of those ages 18 to 49 who say this.:
The Pew Survey will not stop manufacturers from building self-driving vehicles. Hopefully, they will look at this and other reports and look at the safety measures they need to build into these vehicles to eliminate the concerns of all people.
Self-Driving Cars Are Coming; We Can’t Stop That
These vehicles are coming to our roadways. It’s just a matter of time. When you see one for the first time as you’re driving, please don’t take your eyes off the road and stare at it.
You may lose control of your car and hit me or another vehicle. Or, you may slow down unexpectedly and I may not be able to avoid rear ending your car.
Personally, I am going to want to make sure the manufacturers address al of the problems which have been identified with these vehicles right now and others I haven’t thought of before I will feel comfortable with them being produced in mass quantities.
Until then I am going to be opposed to them.
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