Have you seen a driverless car in Georgia? While only a very small fraction of the cars on Georgia roads operate autonomously, as the technology develops and the costs decrease we can expect this trend to increase.
Our state’s motto is “Wisdom. Justice. Moderation.” With deep farming roots and our coastal counties, we take pride in life moving at a more “moderate” pace in the South. But the wave toward autonomous, driverless vehicles may not move moderately and, consequently, may not be wise.
Is Georgia Ready for a Driverless Future?
While there are fewer than 100 fully autonomous vehicles currently on our roads, the main concern is the pace at which this trend will explode. Recent estimates suggest that in less than five years there will be over 10 million driverless cars on our highways.
Autonomous vehicles call up images of a prosperous Jetsons-like future, full of new technologies to help make our lives more enjoyable, convenient and safe. But, just how developed is this technology? How tested? How ready are our roadways and traffic laws? Many also cite concerns with privacy – if the FBI is trying to hack an iPhone, what about your self-driving car?
Driverless car technology can potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year. But it may be wise to take a more moderate approach to testing, accepting and integrating autonomous technology to help ensure the most benefit for the future.
Driverless Car Safety Concerns
A vision of the future dominated by self-driving vehicles offers the potential of a world with far fewer traffic crashes. With over 30,000 accident fatalities annually in the U.S. and over 90 percent of crashes considered “preventable,” driverless cars seem like a no-brainer. But, it’s important to realize that there remain serious safety concerns with the technology that haven’t yet been fully addressed.
- Vehicle Hacking: Fiat Chrysler recalled over 1.4 million vehicles to update their software after security researchers demonstrated how to hack into a car’s computer and take control. These were not driverless vehicles, just today’s modern car that happens to be a network of over 70 mini-computers to control everything from tire stability to GPS and braking, etc.Rather than carjacking, will autonomous vehicles place us at a higher risk for carhacking?
- Unexpected Roadway Hazards: While companies are continually improving the guidance systems and software on driverless cars, there are still challenges that the technology hasn’t yet mastered. Autonomous vehicles seem to continue to struggle with adapting to unexpected roadway hazards, including unannounced construction, potholes and erratic downtown streets.
- Unpredictable People: While all indications are that autonomous vehicles could significantly reduce auto accidents, there remain serious concerns about the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and children. It has not yet been fully demonstrated that driverless cars can respond safely, and consistently, in these scenarios.
As recently reported by Georgia Public Broadcasting, “The technology is kind of there. It’s just making it robust and bulletproof,” says Bert Bras, a Georgia Tech professor who’s working with Ford Motor Company on remote driving of cars. Bras says that making driverless cars work for highway driving is one thing. “The urban areas are going to be the problem,” Bras observes. “It’s going to be easily implemented on the highway where basically everybody’s going the same direction, similar speeds.”
It’s Not Just Driverless Cars
There are many transportation-related businesses that are already making investments in the future of autonomous vehicles. Airlines have started exploring the pros and cons of planes without pilots. Several subway systems around the world have started to implement driverless systems, and railroad companies are already using autonomous trains in other countries – a trend sure to take hold on railways here in the U.S. soon. But, there are two additional industries that are exploring autonomous driving:
- Public Buses: Some cities in Switzerland, Greece, China, the Netherlands and the UK are already using driverless buses on their streets. An office park in the Bay Area is expected to get their first fleet of autonomous buses this year, and several large corporate campuses are using autonomous shuttles. Will autonomous vehicles eventually result in driverless school buses?
- Commercial Trucks: Consider how much more money the trucking industry could make if they didn’t have to hire truck drivers! Keep your eyes open, because it’s already underway. Daimler unveiled an autonomous truck last year, named “Freightliner Inspiration.” While it might be an “inspiration” to some, it could easily be a nightmare for others.
Data shows that Google’s driverless cars have an accident rate of more than 9x that of the driving population overall. If that is the current status of driverless car technology, are we really ready to move from small passenger vehicles to commercial vehicles?
Worth Slowing Down on the Autonomous Highway
While driverless vehicle technology offers a future with potentially fewer accident fatalities, it also presents a number of potential pitfalls. As the race toward autonomous vehicles heats up, let’s keep a watchful eye on the evolution of safety measures and regulations. Let’s also keep in mind Georgia’s motto, “Wisdom. Justice. Moderation.” as we consider the needed adjustments to infrastructure, traffic laws and the legal system. For example, who is at fault in a driverless car accident? But, that’s an article for another time…
If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at the Mann Law Firm. We are ready to provide you with a free and confidential initial consultation. Contact us by calling (478) 742-3381 or submitting our online form.