Potential Advantages of the Driverless Car
Most traffic incidents are a result of human error. It’s the person spilling hot coffee on himself in morning traffic and causing a pile-up, or the person ignoring her own fatigue and dozing off at the wheel, or the person misjudging how long it will take to pass the car in front and causing a head-on collision. These could be prevented through drivers ed and defensive driving, but could taking the human factor out of the equation altogether (or to some extent, as we’ll see) do away with most of the risk?
The driverless car is slowly becoming a reality on our roads, allowed in a number of states under the condition that the driver can take over the manual controls. To date, Google’s cars have clocked some 500,000 miles in tests on California roads, with only one incident – and this happened when the car was controlled by a human.
A major advantage these cars seem to offer is improved safety, as the computer-powered reaction times and manoeuvring precision should be a vast improvement on those of the human.
Another advantage is the fact that not having to monitor and respond to constantly changing traffic around you would actually free you to attend to other activities you may find more pleasurable, like sitting back and relaxing, reading, watching a movie, having your breakfast, or just catching up on work or sleep.
It would also open up new opportunities and improve quality of life for those who are currently unable to drive due to medical conditions, like blindness, or their age.
If its safety proves to be anything like its creators claim it will be, the autonomous car may make our everyday so much better, relieving drivers who have to commute of considerable daily stress and risk.
Furthermore, it might also be more economical, as we gradually shift away from car ownership and car as a status symbol to greater emphasis on cost-efficiency and on a more reasonable use of our time and resources.
Some studies suggest that many developed countries may be reaching “peak car” (http://www.economist.com/node/21563280 ), a point of saturation with car ownership and use after which we see a steady decline in these parameters. In rich countries, there seems to be either stagnation or a dip in the kilometres travelled and trips made. In addition, young people seem to associate cars less with prestige and access to their peers than this used to be the case, as identities and relationships are increasingly negotiated online, via social networks. And, as a growing portion of our shopping is conducted online, trips to the store may also become less frequent.
In rural areas cars still guarantee freedom, access and convenience; in metropolitan areas, however, there is less need for car ownership. Add to this the cost of fuel and insurance premiums, as well as the cost of maintaining a car you only get to drive occasionally and then end up stuck in traffic or circling the block for a parking space, and cars in cities begin to seem more of a hassle than a necessity and convenience. In these areas, having access to any one of a fleet of autonomous cars available citywide as needed would make more sense than ownership – it would cost less, and the cars would be shared across users.