Will Self-Driving Cars Ever Dominate Our Roads?

Posted on Monday, 11 February 2019 by CarTakeBack

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Driverless cars are set to make our roads safer and solve our congestion issues in Australia. They’re the largest breakthrough in the industry since motor cars and at some point in the future, they could be making life and death decisions for us.

Are they safer? Will we learn to trust them? Will they really lower the death toll on the roads? Here we take a look at the advantages, laws and ethics, currently in debate here in Australia and around the world.

 

We’ve gradually been moving towards autonomous vehicles for years

You might already benefit from autonomous features in your car, or you might be surprised to know how many are already out there.

Here are just a few examples:

Self parking - automatic parking establishes whether the car can fit into a space, if so, it’ll automatically steer the vehicle in.

Adaptive cruise control - cars automatically adjust speed depending on surrounding vehicles. In some cases, ACC can even stop the car and start it again once traffic has passed.

Sign recognition - some cars can recognise road signs and inform the driver, or even display the speed limit.

Autopilot - Probably the closest to a driverless car, Tesla have launched ‘autopilot’ - it’s very close to fully autonomous driving. However, you still need a driver with their hands on the steering wheel.

These features have slipped in over the past decade, with very little uproar compared to the driverless car outrage. We trust these features - will we learn to put our faith in a fully autonomous vehicle?

What are the advantages of self-driving cars?

Save lives

One of the most common causes of accidents on our roads is driver distraction (NSW Government). Considering a computer doesn’t have the ability to be ‘distracted’, automated vehicles alleviate this danger and could save many lives.

Green

“A small percentage of autonomous vehicles (5 percent) could have a significant impact in eliminating waves and reducing the total fuel consumption by up to 40 percent” (Phys.org). A driverless car has endless opportunities for optimisation, in the future we should be able to programme them to become as fuel efficient as possible, reducing emissions and protecting our environment.

Less traffic

With no humans behind the wheel, the autonomous cars can have ‘vehicle to vehicle communications’, which can ‘enable cars to broadcast and receive information regarding things like road conditions, traffic flow, speed, and direction’ (Hertz). This could reduce traffic and the length of commutes significantly every day.

The stress of traffic jams can also have an adverse effect on people’s health - they’ve been linked to anxiety and higher blood pressure. With driverless cars, we could also see a health benefit.

More free time

We spend hours and hours driving to and from places. With a machine doing the driving for us, we’ll have time to read, watch TV, send emails, work on the commute, video conference, eat, have a drink, have a date, sleep… anything you fancy.

 

Extra parking spaces 

Self-driving cars can park themselves. A person can get out before it parks, so the space for a driver to get out is no longer needed. Vehicles can be parked much closer together, giving us plenty of extra spaces. 

What are the legal problems?

There are many legality issues up in the air about driverless cars at the moment such as:

  • Whose responsibility is it if two autonomous cars crash into each other and cause a fatality?
  • If there is no longer driver, could this lie with the software developers, manufacturers or designers?
  • How will insurance now work? Who will pay for any damages?
  • Are you classed as a ‘passenger’ in the self-driving car? Do you still need to keep aware and alert, (as a driver would), in case you need to override the system? There have been a number of autopilot crashes already (Live Science).  

The answers to these remain unclear but will need to be resolved before we allow self-driving cars to be rolled out across the world.

What are the ethical issues?

Self-driving vehicles need software that can make life and death decisions, this has inevitably lead to extensive ethical discussions. The conversations focus on tragic and rare cases - although they are infrequent, they are realistic potentials and pose major moral issues.

What if the vehicle has to choose between killing the passenger in the car or a large group of young children? What if the car has to decide between killing ten elderly people or one child? The car will need to be programmed for situations like this, making a decision on our behalf.

The Ethics Commission on Automated Driving have proposed the following elements for self-driving car guidelines regarding this:

“Damage to property must take precedence over personal injury. In hazardous situations, the protection of human life must always have top priority. In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction between individuals based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is impermissible.”

A human may choose to sacrifice themselves, seeing this as a noble option or they may choose to save their own child in the car above a group of pedestrians. However, the vehicle someone rides in may have a programme differing from the choice they would make.

Is this morally fair?

Will we need to pre-determine a value for everything, with the car choosing to ‘kill’ the lowest valued element?

How will a perfect system be created for all scenarios?

How will we create a universal moral code that everyone agrees with?

Will we get to know how manufacturers have ethically programmed our vehicle?

Can we choose how to programme the moral system in our car?

These are more questions that need to be answered and accounted for before we see self-driving cars taking over our roads.

Australia has started trialing fully autonomous vehicles

Despite the unresolved issues, Australia have started to trial self-driving cars. Dubbed a huge milestone for transport in Western Australia and Australia, the RAC Intellicar is ‘Australia’s first on-demand, automated vehicle’.

Over the coming decade, we’ll see autonomous cars become more prevalent so it’s an absolute necessity to test self-driving vehicles - ensuring the risks, impacts and also opportunities are fully understood.

Find out more about the Intellicar trials. The trial is likely to progress to stage 3 - ‘On public roads with the opportunity for the public to experience the vehicles within a defined precinct.’, during early 2019.

 

When will we see self-driving cars take over?

Will fully autonomous vehicles succeed without absolutely zero human drivers on the road? Just one person driving among the robots could cause danger.

Car manufacturers claim to believe automated vehicles will take over by 2030. However, with so many ethical, moral and legal decisions that would first need to be resolved, this is likely to be very behind schedule.

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