The Future of Self-driving Cars


Kenroku Park, Kanazawa, in winter

After sitting in stop and go traffic for about half an hour last night on the way home from the office due to a 6 car pile up on the freeway, I started thinking that maybe self driving cars might not be all that bad of an idea.  Although a lawyer acquaintance said that cars will fly before self driving cars are allowed on the roads (and I’m sure tort lawyers are even now salivating at the prospects) I don’t see how self driving cars can be any worse than some of the goofs we have on the roads today.  After spending time living in Japan and England, where driver training is infinitely more rigorous than it is in America, I’ve concluded that all the self driving cars, safety systems and government mandates aren’t going to reduce accident rates in this country until we do something about the miserable way people are trained (or not trained as it were) to drive here.  I’ll bet that at any given moment about 1/3 of the drivers have no business at all being behind the wheel.  This was made abundantly apparent after I returned to Cleveland after living in England.  After one trip on I-271 in the morning traffic I was ready to pack it in, that was much too scary.  Bumper to bumper rush hour traffic on the M62 between Leeds and Manchester moves at up to 85mph and I felt perfectly safe there because it’s apparent that virtually everyone knew exactly what they were doing.  Driving in Cleveland is more akin to driving in China, another place with apparently little training and horrible roads.

Unfortunately with self driving cars, unless the switch is made overnight so that ALL cars on the road are self driving I fear that they will never be deployed.  Some highways may have to be made off limits to non self driving vehicles.  Plus I see self driving trucks becoming a reality much sooner than self driving cars, due to the higher accident rate for trucks and the constant turnover (about 130% per annum) of truck drivers.  None of this will happen overnight.  It took 40 years for the electric light bulb to completely displace gas lighting.  The technology is in its infancy currently, and as widespread deployment is years or decades away, in the interim we should focus on improved driver training.  One of the downsides of self driving cars (besides their cost) is that people have yet another excuse to lose a valuable skill due to laziness.  We’re becoming a nation of idiots as robots and automation take over everything.  Once robots get smart enough to build and program themselves they’ll realize they don’t need humans any more.