In the process of creating newer safety systems, it was only a matter of time until we came across self-driving cars. In the 90s, the creation of autonomous intelligent cruise control (AICC), or just cruise control, was the biggest leap for safety. We are still trying to fine-tune that feature by adding more features to go along with it. Even in 2013, Dan Neil noted that we had assistance features such as Lane Departure, Pedestrian Warning systems, and Parking Assist features.

So, who is to say that the autonomous car will not be the successor of that? That it would produce the same benefits that come with these new safety features?

Essentially, yes. Self-driving cars have the potential to:

  • Ease congestion. Dr. Fagnant and Dr. Kockelman noted that this benefit will take longer to emerge, but with the integration of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, it may be easier for traffic to be avoided. Though, the self-driving car will likely optimize your route so that you are taking the fastest route possible. For now, enjoy not focusing on when that car in front of you will finally move. Let traffic be your pastime as you put the car on autopilot – unless you needed to be at work 10 minutes ago.
  • Improve fuel economy. With Autopilot on, it is likely there will be a fuel economy option. Especially on a long trip, the car will want to pick between choosing the most fuel saving route or the fast route. Either way, the car will optimize itself to get you to the location, either by adjusting speed or the length of the drive. Maybe, it’ll drive up to a gas station for you, if it gets to that point. At the moment, most cars with the autopilot function run on electricity, but autonomous cars in development have yet to report being electric-powered.
  • Increase of mobility and accessibility. Now that there isn’t a driver needed, who’s to say the blind can’t have their own private accommodation in their self-driving car. Self-driving cars can be used for taxis as well, Uber has thought of it. Dr. Fagnant and Dr. Kockelman have added that this extends to those who are too young or old to drive as well as the disabled. They added points towards car-sharing rides that will take up little space in parking areas.

The grey area out of this innovative feature means that it requires federal regulation. As with any disruptive technology that plays a heavy factor in our lives, it needs heavy consideration of relevant laws and requirements and may require the establishment of new laws. Dr. Fagnant and Dr. Kockelman noted the lack of these regulations and wondered what happens if you get in an accident while you’re in autopilot mode? Are you at fault, is this the fault of the automaker, or is there a shared level of responsibility?

Also there is the human element to all of this. The MIT Technology Review noted that people are already “bullying” self-driving cars when they are too timid. It’s not just the aggressive drivers, but pedestrians and cyclists are taking advantage of them too.

It really becomes a question of if we are ready for self-driving cars or if self-driving cars are ready for us.

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