Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?: Everything You Should Know
Technology is on the rise as the future becomes the past. We all knew the day would come in this age of smartphones, tablets, watches, and GPS that someday our cars would become the next innovation. In our hands, technology is great, keeps us up to date with family and friends, but how would you feel in a car that drives itself? There is a lot of debate regarding this innovation, and due to the tech involved in these, some people are hesitant. We have all had that moment when driving, in which we hoped the car would drive itself so we didn’t have to. Well in one small rural area that is happening right now, but how will this impact the future on the highways, cities, and even small rural areas? Safety and your opinion of it are subjective and not everyone will see eye to eye on what should or should not be safe for everyone. In this blog, we are going to review what information is out there, and you decide if it would be safe for you.
What Are They?
Self-driving cars and trucks are vehicles in which actual drivers are not required to take over control of the vehicle to operate the vehicle safely. With a combination of different types of software and sensors, these vehicles will drive themselves. There are different levels of these available now and the hopes of some in the future.
Level 0 – This is obvious, this is where humans have control over the vehicle.
Level 1 – Cruise control or maybe automatic braking may be controlled by the vehicle, but only one at a time. Some of these vehicles are already on the market, and consumers have purchased these.
Level 2 – Two systems will be controlled at a time, for instance, steering and acceleration. The human element will still be needed for operation for these to operate safely. These vehicles are also available on the market currently.
Level 3 – The vehicle can manage critical safety functions under a specific set of conditions, but if an alert goes off, the driver will need to take over. These vehicles are presently being used by certain companies in limited situations.
Level 4 – Under certain driving scenarios, the car is fully autonomous. These vehicles based on company estimates for technology and automakers will be likely available in the next several years.
Level 5 – Any situation the vehicle is given, it will be capable of self-driving. This type of vehicle will be many years away.
How It Works
Depending on who the maker is, they will use various laser and sensor systems in the vehicle. Uber uses 64 laser beams with sensors to create an internal map. These sensors and lasers help the car navigate itself around the city streets. Planes use radar currently to know where it is in the sky, and like this, some of the prototypes of the new self-driving vehicles have turned to radar to know its location in relevance to what is around it.
High Powered Cameras
Not unlike the cameras we use to record when you are driving, the philosophy is the same, however, these cameras look at a wider range. These will provide a 360-degree view, and will be mounted on the cars in some cases, or inside. These cameras help identify traffic signals, stop signs, and lane lines for the vehicle to navigate on the roads.
High Tech Software
This is an obvious one, but computer chips and systems will be installed in the vehicles. We are all used to the new dash systems that most cars come with today, like making your phone calls, radio, and the onboard system giving error codes for maintenance work. Well, these new systems will be able to read the lasers, sensors, and cameras and dial it in to the car system to read the technology being fed in to help maintain the direction and “thinking” of the car. It will have rules, predictive modeling, object discrimination, and also follow traffic laws.
This is not without some controversy, but GPS is being considered in order to park and know the location of the vehicles. Almost everyone has used GPS in the past to find a location or driving directions in order to get to one’s destination. This process would include loading specifics into the car navigation in order to know where it can park, even to include the precise location of your driveway. Some people have a problem with this, because to some it violates privacy, but imagine that in order for these to work, the tracking on the system has to be accurate to the last mile or yard.
Pros and Cons
Computers – The obvious plus side to computers are they will never tire. They will be able to make appropriate decisions based on the information it is receiving. It won’t get distracted and will have a wider range of visibility. The downside to these, is the information it is receiving accurate? Visibility can and could be limited due to inclement weather. Lane lines could be not visible, and sun glares could impact reading stoplights.
Cameras – The high powered cameras will be able to see further and all around the vehicle. Humans have mirrors they use, but have blind spots and can’t be looking in all directions at all times. On the other hand, like when you take a picture, you can get glares from the light of the sun, or a flash of something that could impact the visibility. Snow, heavy rain, or even fog, for instance, can make it difficult for the lens to get a clear picture of what is happening around it. This could then send wrong information to the computer in the vehicle, or not see what needs to be seen.
Maintenance – Most of these systems will have an onboard system so that if something were to go wrong, the mechanic will know exactly what is wrong with your vehicle and can fix it. The problem with this is that since the system will be so integrated, it could be an expensive fix. Since all the systems will be connected to other pieces and parts, it might not be possible to fix one item that has an issue, but multiple for the system to properly run. Most people buy a new computer instead of getting theirs fixed due to the price tag most computer techs charge, so imagine fixing your whole vehicle.
Safety is something that is under a lot of scrutinies when it comes to self-driving vehicles. Lack of decision-making skills in computers can be a huge issue. The technicalities of driving, like the basics to it are and can beat the human interaction, however, you cannot design a computer to read and know what potentially life-threating situations can happen around you.
Technology Element – In most studies that have been performed thus far on prototype vehicles, they have outperformed the human element. Meaning that the vehicle will not get distracted, can make safer decisions and keep the vehicle within a better distance to trouble. The car’s computer is going to sort through all the data from the sensors, cameras, GPS, and radar to determine what moves it needs to make. If a vehicle stops suddenly in front of you, it will automatically stop the car. Based on patterns of other cars on the roads, it will slow down the vehicle, keep a safe distance from a car near you, or be able to keep your speed a consistent rate.
Technology, however, cannot predict what is going to happen suddenly. It cannot predict if a person is going to step off the sidewalk into the road, or if a bike comes out of nowhere. Also for those living in areas with lots of wildlife, it will not predict if a deer is about to run out in front of you. If the weather is bad and the rest of the sensors are not working, it will not be able to make the appropriate decisions. Testing in all these scenarios are in the process of being done, but even under strict testing, they cannot predict all scenarios that could potentially happen.
Human Element – In most cases humans are better are keeping track of what is around them and what could potentially happen. Humans are creatures of habit however and this can be a bad element. We get tired, distracted, or have slow reaction times. We can let emotions determine how we drive, and even in some cases, people drink and drive. Self-driving vehicles will eliminate those things, but nothing can take the place of instinct. When driving down the road and you see a person walking and not paying attention, we can slow down and make sure nothing will happen. When we see kids playing ball and see that they are throwing it to each other and not paying attention, we can see the reaction they have and take the necessary steps.
Impact of Self-Driving Cars
Safety – Thousands of people die in automobile accidents every year, and self-driving vehicles could reduce that amount hypothetically. For many of the people that were asked if they would get one of these vehicles, most said they would not. One of the chief concerns for some would-be cybersecurity. We all hear about hackers and keeping virus protection on your computers, but what protection is there for an entire vehicle and having someone take over your car.
Equity – While this technology will have benefits to potentially put more people on the road, it can also take away jobs from millions and impact public transportation funding. Elderly and disabled people would be able to get around better and have access to vehicles that otherwise they would not be able to potentially get. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, and other transportation drivers could be out of jobs. With the current unemployment rate constantly under watch, and jobs going overseas more and more, this could increase the unemployment rate and potentially change how unemployment works.
Environmental – Depending on how these vehicles are made it could impact the environment positively or negatively. If they are gas-powered, then the emissions could go up due to the increase of miles driven for all those who could not before. On the other end, if the cars are electric, then the emission could drop significantly. This could happen with more people using ride-sharing, as well as Uber.
Laws – The impact of possible accidents and who is to blame could impact the laws on the road and also in the court systems. When someone is killed most people depending on the circumstances, will sue whoever is to blame. Well if they are in an accident due to self-driving vehicles, who will be sued? The person in the vehicle riding, or the company that made the vehicle? The impact of this could put into laws that either protect the human factor or companies that made the vehicles. Blame will be something that becomes a constant, and when vehicles have different components like the cameras, software and so forth, who really gets the blame? The amount of time to come to a resolution could double and companies could be forced out of business.
Public opinion is going to play a major factor as to whether or not these vehicles are mass-produced or just produced in general. A version of these may and have come into play, but still using the human element. Ratings of these vehicles are going to be another major factor. As of now, most people are not lining up to ride in one of these vehicles, but maybe public opinion will change in the future when more tests and more statistics are provided showing positive outcomes. The question becomes, “Will you put yourself in one of the vehicles or your family?” Hopefully, some of the information provided above will give you something to think about and help you make more of an informed decision when they do become available.
- Pacific Standard – Just How Safe Are Self Driving Cars?
- Car From Japan – How Safe are the Self Driving Cars?
- Vehicle Suggest – Are Self Driving Cars Safe?
- Science News – When it comes to self-driving cars, what’s safe enough?
- Vox – Self-Driving cars
- Money CNN – Self Driving Cars are already safe
- Wired – Guide to self-driving cars
- UCSUSA – Self-Driving Cars Explained