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Are autonomous/self-driving/driverless cars really dangerous?

Published: November 21, 2015

The most talked about technology in terms of cars is the autonomous car technology.  The development of this technology has also given birth to a debate regarding the safety of driverless cars. While one set of experts believe that driverless cars would be a lot safer than the human driven cars as the chances of human errors are not there. Another sect of experts believe that though these cars will be free from human errors, the chances of the computer failing to adapt to the actual road conditions are high which may lead to uncontrollable accidents occurring on roads.

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There are some obvious benefits to self-driving vehicles: they can improve the mobility of those who don’t currently drive and they will reduce emissions because congestion and idling will be greatly minimized. Drunk driving incidents should decrease, because there’s no designated driver needed when the car drives itself. Sensors in the autonomous cars allow vehicles to ride closer together, therefore allowing more cars on the road with actually less traffic. Automated parking in the cars, which is already available in many car models now a days, would reduce the congestion due to parking and would also make parking more convenient. Since the features in these cars are computer controlled, the fuel consumption and emission can also be checked, making these cars economical and better for the environment.

Automated cars also have specific safety system such as animal and pedestrian collision avoidance system. This type of feature allows the self driving car to prevent collision with any pedestrian or even the small animals that walk on the road and are otherwise not visible to a human driver. Disabled individuals, who have to rely on public transportation or assistance from others to get around, could reap the benefits of self-driving cars with new freedom and enhanced mobility.  Road rage would all but disappear, as all self-driving vehicles would be programmed to be predictable, courteous and unemotional.

The technology might seem to be highly beneficial and almost the answer to all the traffic problems, but like all other technologies, this too has its share of negative points.

The first concern would be the cost. The fully automated car would come to the buyer with a very heavy price tag. It won’t be affordable to everyone. Very few people will be able to afford this luxury and if so be the condition, the traffic situation will remain the same if not worsen. A road with some automated cars and some human-driven cars would be a very risky zone to travel.

The second concern would be of the system crashing. No system is foolproof and anyone sitting in a self-driving car would have the question in mind – ‘what if the system crashes on a busy road?’ the result of any such system failure would be disastrous.

Another aspect of the fully automated car that would worry the car lovers would be the end of driving. Almost every person who owns a car, loves to drive it. The fully automated car would snatch the opportunity from such car lovers.

Although the self-driving car would be self-sufficient, the passenger would still have to have the basic knowledge of computer operation. While the computer takes over once the vehicle is operational, the driver would still be required to maintain some knowledge about how to operate it safely.

The most dangerous aspect of these cars is that the system of these cars is quite hackable. What if some miscreant hacks the system? He can simply play around with the car and the lives of many people with ease. This can raise severe safety issues.

Even though there are concerns about the adequate nature of public transportation, self-driving cars would eliminate many jobs in the transportation sector, especially when it comes to freight transportation and taxi drivers. This could have a negative impact on the unemployment rate and the economy.

The cars are not able to operate at a high level of safety in all weather conditions. In fact severe weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow can hamper the functioning of sensors which would ultimately result in crashes.

If other technology fails, such as traffic signals that the cars rely on, there’s no accounting for human traffic signals. In the event of an accident, for example, where a police officer is directing traffic, the cars cannot interpret human signals.

It’s unclear how self-driving cars would maneuver through hazards like roadblocks or unique local driving laws.

While self-driving cars seem to be a promising technology of the future, it still raises a lot of questions about the functionality of such cars. However, with a little modulation or with little control of driver over the technology, these cars would become much safer and the technology will become practicable. The technology will prove to be a revolution for the world and if deployed successfully it would change the entire driving scenario.

By Kriti Ranjan

 

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