I have learned five important things about driverless cars since I published a blog post entitled “Cops may feel biggest impact from driverless car revolution.“
1) Self driving cars get into accidents! The head of Google’s self driving car program states here that the Google program has been in 11 minor accidents. The reason why self driving cars get into accidents is clearly articulated by Holman Jenkins in his Wall Street Journal column. He says “Google cars drive like your grandmother.” Google cars follow all rules of the road perfectly. However, most drivers don’t. For most experienced drivers, seeing a traffic light flip from green to yellow means speed up to get through the intersection. For a Google car it means stop. Google cars are programmed to wait 1.5 seconds once a traffic light turns green before going. Where I live, that is a disaster waiting to happen, especially during rush hour, when all drivers take their foot off the brake the moment a red light turns green.
2) Sitting in a self driving car will make some people queasy! The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute did a survey and found between 6% and 12% of all people in self driving cars are expected to experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some time. Being car sick is not an experience unique to self driving vehicles. It is possible to become car sick even in the most luxurious top of the line vehicle available today. Typically only passengers, not drivers become car or motion sick. Since every one is a passenger in a self driving car the incidence of car or motion sickness will increase as self driving cars become more common.
3) Self driving cars might make us less social. Dan Fink, a lieutenant with the San Rafael, California Police Department wrote a very interesting piece. In his article he points out there is no need for drivers’ licenses since no one is driving. This will enable children to summon a car to get to and from school. While few of us enjoy dragging our children to school or extracurricular activities, shipping them off in a driverless car means less time for socialization within the family. Having cheap self driving cars means fewer school bus rides for children with their peers, resulting in people spending more time alone.
4) Bicyclists are likely the group most at risk when self driving cars become widespread. National Tyre and Autocare, a large English chain of shops doing tire and car repair, created a wonderful, easy-to-read website that explains the technology behind self driving cars. The 8th page talks about when “a cyclist gestures that he intends to make a manoeuvre, the driverless car interprets it correctly and slows down to allow” the turn. While this sounds great, I rarely use hand signals while pedaling my bicycle and rarely see other cyclists use hand signals. The roads where I live are in such poor shape that taking your hands off the handlebars to signal is more dangerous than not signaling. Expecting cyclists to start using hand signals is not something that will happen in much of the world.
5) Self driving cars will boost fleet MPG, but likely will not reduce total gasoline consumption. Modern cars have many components whose sole job is to reduce the extent of injuries in a crash. Bumpers, air bags, seat belts, roll bars, and occupant cages all add extra weight to a car, but help prevent occupants from being hurt. The need for many of these items will disappear as travel become safer due to self-driving cars. Airplanes for example, have seat belts for each passenger, but no air bags since few airlines crash. Reducing or eliminating items which reduce injuries is a simple way to make cars lighter and cheaper. The lighter the car, the higher the miles per gallon (MPG). While increases in MPG reduces gasoline consumption, self driving cars will likely travel more miles, negating the boost in fuel efficiency. There are many people who currently avoid driving during some or all of each day. Self driving cars will cause some of these people to use their cars more often For example, many elderly people avoid driving at night because they have trouble seeing. Self driving cars will enable them to travel at night. Some people avoid driving because parking is difficult or the distance is too long. Self driving cars will eliminate these issue, increasing the miles traveled and boosting demand for gasoline.
Overall, self driving cars will have a huge impact on our lives. I cannot wait to try one out.