Beware Google’s Automated Car
Back in February, Nevada became “the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” according to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Director, Bruce Breslow.
If you’ve been following along with us, he’s talking about the state officially approving the use of driverless cars on its roads.
This was great news for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), since it’s already clocked over 200,000 miles on the road with its own self-driving car technology.
Now, after checking out safety plans and system functions and getting DMV employees up to speed on the technology, the state has reached another major milestone – handing out the first driverless car license.
So once again, the internet is glowing with excitement about the possibilities. However, as Wall Street Daily readers know, I don’t exactly share this enthusiasm.
That doesn’t mean I don’t see the potential, though. Daniel Nasaw at the BBC put together a nice rundown of what we can expect to change as more driverless cars hit the road.
And I agree with most of his observations. Like the fact that driverless cars should make our commutes more productive, since we can catch up on email, read the news, etc.
But I’m still not convinced of his prediction that the technology will lead to “safer roads.” Here’s why…
Not Everyone’s Car is on Autopilot Yet
Nasaw references a National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration statistic that says, “In the U.S., driver error – weaving out of the lane, drunk driving and distracted driving, for example – is a factor in at least 60% of fatal crashes.”
He also quotes the Editor-in-Chief of MarketingLand.com, Danny Sullivan, who’s test-driven the self-driving car. Sullivan says, “Your automated car isn’t sitting around getting distracted, making a phone call, looking at something it shouldn’t be looking at, or simply not keeping track of things.”
Okay, I agree that an automated car is always on its game, and there are several people who’d make the world a safer place by handing over the reins to Google’s invention.
The problem is that the transition to driverless cars isn’t happening overnight. And as long as terrible drivers are still tormenting the roadways in their manually operated jalopies, I’m not convinced that we should feel safe letting these cars take over exclusively while we take a nap or play Scrabble with our passengers.
Because in the end, right now nothing can save us from getting whacked by distracted motorists as well as our own instincts.
Computer-Driven Cars Could Get Us Killed
How many times have you avoided an accident by a fraction of a second because of a gut reaction or just plain old defensive driving skills? For me, it’s been dozens. And I’ve yet to be in an accident to this day (knocks on wood).
Sure, self-driving cars seem great at following traffic rules and keeping their distance from the vehicle in front of you. But here’s a scenario where that’s just not good enough…
Say you’re on the highway when you notice a car coming up next to you that’s swerving just enough to raise suspicion.
A defensive driver might let off the gas a bit in case he tries to cut you off or accidentally swerves into your lane. That way, if (and likely when) the car does invade your space, you’re safely out of the way.
It’s not likely that a driverless car could make the same accident-avoiding call. Now, it would probably still get out of the way in time, since Google’s car can react much faster than we can.
But if the only way to do that is, say, slam on the brakes (rather than backing off steadily like a real driver may have done in the first place), then you risk the motorist behind you hitting you anyway.
Of course, this situation would improve dramatically if everyone were cruising around in a self-driving car. Because, as Nasaw points out, “In the future, autonomous cars will be able to communicate with one another, allowing them to negotiate lane changes and overtaking, analysts predict.”
That way, in the above situation, the other vehicle would never have tried to make it into your lane without your car’s prior approval.
So, yes, the idea of automated cars certainly has its bonuses. But until the majority of motorists make the switch – or Google comes up with a way to equip cars with KITT’s level of perception in “Knight Rider” – don’t expect me to put my fate entirely in technology’s hands.