Recently, Google revealed the latest stage of its driverless vehicle project – a small and smiling two-seater with no steering wheel, no pedals, no driver controls whatsoever. For the most part, reaction has been positive, with many industry experts praising Google for helping to bring about this seemingly inevitable step in motoring’s evolution.
But reaction has not been entirely positive, with various media outlets offering a more critical eye on enthusiasts’ claims about how this technology will revolutionise our lives.
This article examines some of the arguments for and against the driverless car, looking at a variety of opinions on various issues.
Traffic Levels and The Environment
These two concerns are closely linked. Enthusiasts are quick to point out the anticipated environmental benefits of driverless vehicles. Treehugger.com claims that such vehicles will not only be smaller and lighter, but also significantly fewer in number as people abandon private ownership in favour of shared usage. They also believe the networked brains of driverless cars will drive smarter than humans, eliminating traffic caused by accidents and sudden changes in speed. They will also use live data to adjust to more efficient routes automatically.
Critics argue that driverless cars will allow those who are currently unable to drive, such as the blind, the old and the infirm, to do so – massively increasing the number of cars on the road, to the detriment of the environment. They also point to a decreased aversion to driving as time in the vehicle can be used to do other things than just drive. This could mean that any potential decrease in the number of vehicles is offset by an increase in the average time people spend in those vehicles. It could also lead to an increase in urban sprawl as the daily commute becomes more of a pleasure than a grind.
With over 700,000 logged, accident-free miles, Google can confidently promote the safety aspect of its driverless cars. Google also claims that driverless cars spent less time in ‘near-collision states’ than cars driven by a team of professional drivers, proving that the cars software was better at keeping safe distances between vehicles.
Critics point to the fact that most tests have been completed in the immediate area around Silicon Valley – perhaps the most accurately mapped roads in the world. They believe driverless cars would fare less well in parts of the world where the car is more dependent on their ability to interpret their surrounding as opposed to being able to rely on map data.
The financial benefits of an efficient, safe, fully networked transport grid could be substantial. Morgan Stanley arrived at a US figure of $1.3 trillion – made up of fuel cost savings, reducing accident costs and increased productivity predominantly. If the science behind these figures is applied globally, the economic benefit could be exponential.
Critics point out that these figures require full-adoption, something that is not likely to be achieved for some time. Other concerns include the short term loss of jobs – taxi drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers and more – as well as the impact on existing public transit services, many of which have seen significant investment.
Without the need to concentrate on the road, passengers will have the time to enjoy more of what they like to do – watch films, read books, play games, and even talk to each other!
But is it driving? Is a driverless vehicle even a car? For many, the joy of motoring is about the act of driving, they will surely be among the last people to make the switch.
What do you think? Would you welcome driverless cars on our roads?