As technological advancements continue to improve our lives, what will be the next great innovation? The most likely one that will soon change the way we live is the self-driving car. Self-driving cars have the potential to vastly improve traffic safety by eliminating human error, a significant positive environmental impact, and will greatly benefit people with disabilities. There are many benefits that self-driving cars have to offer. Most importantly, however, they will make roads safer for everyone.
Self-driving cars are safer because they are capable of sensing its environment and moving with little or no human input. These cars can make lane changes, keep a one to three car distance, and can navigate highway interchanges. The biggest safety advantage to autonomous vehicle is that it is programmed to obey all the rules of the road, won’t speed, and can’t be distracted by a text message flickering onto a phone. Humans are imperfect drivers and fatigue, distraction, intoxication and aggression all contribute to accidents. Safety is an overarching concern. “Many thousands of people die in motor vehicle crashes every year in the United States (more than 30,000 in 2015); self-driving vehicles could, hypothetically, reduce that number-software could prove to be less error-prone than humans” (Brown). A self-driving car can move faster and more safely than a car driven by a human, which decreases the chances of an accident.
I was both excited and terrified to use the autopilot feature on the Tesla. I took my friend with me on the ride because that would give me a sense of security plus he had already used it and was very confident I would not have a problem using the autopilot. This is a technology that promises something mind-blowing-the ability to cede control of one’s car to the car itself. Once I drive onto the freeway, I am told by the car’s graphics that it is now ok to engage Autopilot. I flick a lever under the steering wheel twice and the machinery takes over with optimistic, ascending ring-tone. A message flashes up: “Please keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time”, but my friend says it is fine to let go. The Tesla decides to accelerate towards the car in the front before adjusting its speed to maintain what it considers a safe distance. Reassuring dashboard pictures show me the car and what it detects – road markings and other cars. I comment on how unnerving it is to sit, hands hovering above the wheel, foot floating next to the pedals, while my car steers itself at high speed. I am promised that, while the initial moment is a leap of faith, I will quickly learn to trust it. The car bends its way perfectly through the easy corners, staying in the dead center of its lane, turning just late enough to terrify its nervous pilot. To change lanes, I flick the indicator lever down. Once the car deems it safe, it moves left and adjusts its speed. After my initial experience using the autopilot feature I have not only learned to trust it but to love it. It allows for prolonged driver assistance, adding a feeling of relaxed security on long road trips, and it helps take some of the drudgery out of stop and go traffic.
Another advantage of autonomous cars is that they are primarily electric. Researchers predict that the introduction of self-driving cars could have a significant environmental impact, but how self-driving technology will affect carbon emissions depends on how many automated vehicles will be electric versus gasoline-powered. Environmental impacts are a serious concern, and a major uncertainty. Accessible, affordable and convenient self-driving cars could increase the total number of miles driven each year. If those vehicles are powered by gasoline, then transportation-related climate emissions could skyrocket. Self-Driving Cars Explained suggests that, “Vehicles that are electrified and paired with a clean electricity grid could drop transportation emissions significantly”. Most gas is burned when driving at high speeds, braking, and re-accelerating excessively. Self-driving vehicles cut these factors out of their driving style, meaning less gas burned, or battery power consumed, resulting in less air pollution. Self-driving cars can have immense power to reduce emissions and make the environment a better place.
Self-driving technology could help mobilize individuals who are unable to drive them selves, such as elderly or disabled. People with disabilities would greatly benefit from the technology. Brown claims that, “The British Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders found in March 2017 that 71 percent of respondents with disabilities currently have restricted access to transportation, with the frequency of public transport acting as the main limitation”. These respondents named the ability to travel at any time as one of the biggest reasons why they are exited about the technology. Driverless cars promise to transform the lives of people who have trouble getting around because of illness, old age, or disability. If you’re blind, can’t walk, or you’re older and your reflexes and your memory have you concerned about driving, self-driving cars can ease the burden of transportation for you considerably. Programming the car to pick up people, drive them to their destination and then park by themselves will change the lives of the elderly and disabled by providing them with critical mobility.
Self-driving cars seem to be the wave for the future and as long as the negative environmental impact can be minimized, lives can be saved and they can provide mobility to those that are elderly or disabled the benefits will far outweigh the risks.
If our society is committed to making driving safer, saving our environment and, providing mobility to those that would otherwise not have it then we should consider the following benefits of self-driving vehicles. Mandy autonomous vehicles are being designed to be entirely electric. This doesn’t necessarily reduce energy consumption, but it cuts emissions and air pollution. Vehicle automation will allow vehicle maker to equip self-driving cars with tons of safety features making accidents a rarity. Autonomous vehicles offer potential for reducing transportation obstacles to people with disabilities.