Autonomous cars are coming whether we're ready or not. These self-driving cars are catching the interest of lawmakers around the world.
They're superior safety that leaves no room for human driver error makes them an attractive addition to any city. In fact, the town of Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom is rolling out a fleet of public ones in 2015.
The Milton Keynes cars will travel between the town's train station, commercial, and business districts, will carry two passengers each with room for a baby stroller and shopping bags, and will travel in designated lanes at 12 mph.
Google Driverless car operating on a testing path. Image credits: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons.
Some studies indicate that autonomous cars will have become the norm by the 2020's. Once the technology it takes to build them has become less expensive and more sophisticated, there is no reason why they shouldn't be put on the roads.
A key part of the worldwide deployment of autonomous cars is the development of vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Once this key component is in place, autonomous cars will be able to communicate with other cars around it.
Autonomous cars can already sense upcoming accidents and avoid them; with vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the cars would be able to alert other cars in the area to the potential accident. This one feature alone is estimated to have the potential to reduce highway fatalities by up to 80 percent.
Even without vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the current batch of autonomous cars are exceedingly safe for drivers. One study by the Eno Center for Transportation suggests that if only 10 percent of cars on the road today were autonomous, that it would result in 1,000 less traffic fatalities a year and save up to $38 billion in lost productivity due to traffic jams. As the number of autonomous cars on the road goes up, so do the life-saving and cost-saving benefits.
Autonomous cars eliminate the possibility of driver error. They also remove the possibility of crashes caused by intoxicated drivers. The only concern would be the possibility of malfunctioning software or mechanical parts within the car itself. That is why most autonomous cars would come with a manual override function that would allow someone to take over driving if the car was not working properly.
Other than possible mechanical malfunctions to which every car is prone, there does not appear to be many downsides to autonomous cars. In the United States alone, there are 2.2 million car crashes that result in injury and 30,000 people die in car crashes every year.
Autonomous cars would drastically reduce these numbers. There would be no more distracted, aggressive, or just plain inexperienced drivers behind the wheels of the world's cars, and the cars would be designed to handle virtually any road condition, including snowy weather and heavy rain.
The only drawback to autonomous cars now seems to be getting people comfortable with the idea of riding in them. Tests of Google's new model of autonomous cars in California and Nevada already show they outperform human drivers in nearly every way.
Once people can become comfortable with handing the wheel over to their car and just sitting back and enjoying the ride, autonomous cars can become a huge improvement for the entire world.
With far fewer traffic fatalities or even minor accidents, an increased amount of time that can be used for productivity instead of driving to and from work, and a virtual elimination of traffic jams due to smart car software, autonomous cars appear to be a very good idea. With some education, most people will probably embrace the benefits.