(This one is a bit of a rant…you have been warned)
Let’s start off with a statement I believe to be 100% true: NO ‘self driving’ car will EVER be as safe on the road as an aware, alert, fully rested, sober human driver.
The problem is that a lot of people, with more money than sense, have staked large amounts of dosh and reputation on developing self driving vehicles.
So I have some predictions about what the next few years may bring:
- They will fix some individual, very specific, issues these vehicles currently have (being unable to recognise some advertising billboards, ignoring certain pedestrians and cyclists as if they were invisible, not sensing white trucks as actual things to be avoided, raindrops etc…) but NOT the underlying errors that cause those issues.
- They will continue to contribute to politicians campaign funds and line the pockets of lawmakers in order to get permission for their cars to use public highways.
- Most insidious of all…they will ensure there are enough loopholes in the new laws we will need to govern the use of self driving cars that it will be the drivers, passengers, other car drivers and passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders, pets and children who are killed and injured, who will be blamed for it.
The law already victim-blames in cases of assault, insurance claims, police shootings etc, so I don’t see any reason why the extremely rich self driving car manufacturers will end up having to take any responsibility for their products.
I really hope I’m wrong about this, but experience seems to show that money talks, rich people don’t have to abide by the same laws as the rest of us and lawmakers don’t have any real reason to prosecute manufacturers. There will always be more consumers willing to buy more stuff, no matter how many people it kills, so why worry? (Looking at you, tobacco industry/big pharma/fast food joints).
One final, ranty, note – Tesla are now adding features that watch to make sure the ‘driver‘ is actually IN the driving seat, watching the road and AWAKE. A word of advice from me…if your car cannot actually safely drive itself, how about you stop naming one of its features an ‘autopilot’.
(For those who have managed to slog all the way to the bottom of this rant, my solution would be to take all the money currently being spent developing self driving cars, that will inevitable kill more people, and instead spend it on fixing our public transportation. Clean, reliable, safe buses, trams and trains would reduce pollution, reduce food deserts, put more money back into normal working peoples pockets and would benefit communities rather than super-rich individuals…but then, I always have been a sunny optimist…)