Autonomous cars are no longer a design concept. Companies like Google have already started to test driverless vehicles on the road, and projections indicate the market will be full of driverless car options within the next five years. Most new vehicles feature some degree of automation, from automatic braking in dangerous situations to warning signals for certain environmental changes.
Introducing autonomous cars to roadways should theoretically make driving safer. Without human error creating drunk driving and distracted driving incidents, fewer accidents should occur. But without real-world experience, experts can’t gauge the repercussions the introduction of autonomous cars will have on overall traffic safety.
Possible Dangers of Autonomous Vehicles
- Cybersecurity. This is one major threat driverless vehicles will face. Hackers have already taken control of driver vehicles that rely heavily on electronics. In a test, two hackers remotely hacked into a Jeep and disrupted its systems, leaving the driver with no control of the vehicle.
- In an autonomous vehicle, a savvy hacker could potentially shut down systems, redirect navigation, or take complete control, effectively using the vehicle as a weapon. While only the world’s best hackers could effectively conduct these types of activities, the threat is real. Vehicle manufacturers will need to constantly update and address security concerns to keep riders in driverless cars safe from remote tampering.
- Human drivers. Another major concern is human drivers on the roadways. The world won’t automatically transfer from driving to autonomous vehicles overnight, meaning real drivers will share the roadways with self-driving vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are designed to always put safety first and follow the rules of the road exactly. That means they aren’t great at making split-second decisions in gray areas. People riding in driverless cars may face an increased risk of accidents if a driverless car makes the wrong move on a road full of human drivers.
- Malfunctioning software/hardware. The best smartphones and the computers on the market still glitch every now and then. The best robotics in manufacturing can potentially malfunction, as well. Usually, these are isolated incidents that don’t present a safety threat to people nearby.
- When a driverless vehicle experiences a glitch, people could die. Some models of driverless vehicles can switch to human driving mode, which could reduce the dangers associated with a glitch. However, normal drivers living their daily lives may not identify symptoms of a glitch and make the switch to a human driver in time to avoid a car accident.
- Poor navigation. In a driverless car, a passenger expects the vehicle to get from point A to point B using the most effective route. Current navigation systems aren’t yet adept enough to map out an area and create a navigable route, avoid traffic/obstacles, and transport passengers efficiently.
- Other concerns. In addition to these safety concerns, developers must consider who can operate these vehicles and how much control a driver can take (and when). These vehicles will also change insurance, traffic, and car sales in general. The ramifications on the market could forever alter the way humans interact with their methods of transportation.
Balancing the Risk and Reward of Autonomous Vehicles
The risks associated with autonomous vehicles are well known, but there’s also the potential for amazing benefits. Imagine if these new vehicles could reduce the occurrence of careless, distracted driving, and drunk driving accidents on the roadways. It’s a step forward, as this technology could launch many other new, life-changing innovations.
Companies, independent researchers, and traffic safety organizations are currently working on solutions to these and other problems the technology may present. For the moment, human drivers can take comfort knowing vehicle manufacturers will likely not release road-legal driverless vehicles to the general market for a few more years.