Recent advances in self-driving cars have proven that we’re not far from a hands-free driving experience. In fact, several models are already being tested in pilot programs across the country. The arrival of autonomous vehicles has gotten two very different reactions from drivers: some see it as a godsend and others a nightmare. There is also a group of people who fall in the grey area of these two extremes. Those that aren’t necessarily concerned about the ethics of the technology, but how accessible it will be to the general public. Are self-driving cars a luxury that only some can afford?
Bringing Self Driving Cars to the Mass Market
Since companies like General Motors and Google have invested hundreds of millions in this technology, it seems only natural that autonomous cars will come with a high price tag. But the truth is, once these cars are tested to perfection their cost will come down significantly. There is also a ton of competition between car companies to make their products available on the mass market. There will always be some type of “Ferrari” on the lot – that ridiculously expensive luxury vehicle most of us only dream of driving – but the same superiority complex exists now.
Also, most car companies aren’t going fully autonomous just yet. Drivers are being eased into the idea of driverless technology through upgrades to their current vehicles. For example, many features like GPS subsystems are now available to improve navigation and reduce driver responsibility. All of these features will eventually make up the autonomous vehicle, but it will happen over time. In the short term, drivers won’t be forced to make an “all or nothing” decision at the car dealership.
Autonomous Cars for the Public Good
Based on market competition, it seems like autonomous vehicles will eventually be a luxury that most of us can afford. But there is a much more complex question that surrounds making self-driving cars a reality: are they a necessity?
Computers provide drivers (or soon to be passengers) with a safety net. Despite our best intentions, humans do a number of things that make driving a risky business: we text and make phone calls, we fidget with our music stations, we get distracted by passengers and we don’t always remember to look both ways. Every day, drivers fall asleep on the road or decide to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Computers don’t drink, get tired or get distracted by all the technology we have at our fingertips. Computers don’t succumb to road rage or take a chance at running a stop sign.
A Catastrophic Mistake
There are years of research proving that this technology could make our lives better. There has even been talk of the government mandating self-driving cars to completely eliminate the risk of a human driver.
Although self-driving cars may have had an edge on human drivers, one recent tragedy called much of this progress into question. In early March, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was killed by one of Uber’s self-driving cars as she was crossing the street. While the accident is still under investigation, Uber has already suspended its autonomous vehicle testing.
This was the first known death of a pedestrian by a self-driving vehicle. Despite the relatively safe track-record of these cars, the incident definitely shook up the market and garnered a lot of media attention. It won’t stop this technology from making its way into the consumer market, but it will certainly cause some roadblocks.
One thing is for certain: computers aren’t perfect, but neither are humans. For the last two years, there were 40,000 automotive fatalities in the United States. Many of these incidents could have been avoided if drivers were paying attention, adhering to safety policies and exercising better judgment. We shouldn’t dismiss the mass arrival of autonomous vehicles, but we should proceed with caution.
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