Driverless cars are no longer just an idea out of Minority Report. Tesla, Google, Apple, and other companies are developing the technology to let you drive hands-free. And down the road (pun intended), the plan is to make these cars fully autonomous, meaning they won’t need anyone to direct the driving.
There are a lot of problems with driverless cars, and it will take some time to work out the kinks. In my opinion, no vehicle operating at the speed cars do will ever fully be safe; but I can certainly see how driverless cars could be more safe than what we have right now, especially after what I see every day as a Memphis car crash injury lawyer.
There are a few key issues that could cause some problems in the coming years as these companies test out their products and make this technology more available to the public:
1) Can the Technology Move Past Its Publicity Stunts?
The crowds love seeing driverless cars. Whether it’s a worldwide auto event or a simple YouTube video, the technology fascinates us. But with all this great publicity, it’s easy for companies to mask problems with the system.
Self-driving technology has to be very mature and sophisticated before it should ever be tested on the open road. And then it likely needs that real-world testing for many thousands of miles. Like it or not, we’ll all be sharing the road with test products at some point – robotic vehicles that have to “learn” how to drive. And that isn’t quite as glamorous as watching a new shiny prototype in a controlled space.
2) Is Driver Assistance Safe?
We aren’t at a point where driverless cars are taking over our streets. Right now, the new products include something called “driver assistance,” which is a little like cruise control on steroids. It allows the car to take over for someone for a very limited period. So the driver still needs to be in control and able to return to driving quickly.
This technology makes me very nervous, because as a car accident lawyer I know us drivers don’t need any more excuses to get distracted. It’s one of the main reasons people come to see me every day. Cars are weapons, even if we don’t want to think about them that way. They can and do kill, and it’s much more likely to happen when drivers are lulled into believing they don’t need to pay attention to the road while they read their latest text message.
3) Can the System Be Hacked?
This is perhaps my greatest fear about self-driving cars, and I haven’t seen a lot of encouraging news about it. In our digital world, every time we hand over a part of our lives to a computer, we have to think about cyber-security. I can imagine few things more terrifying than a hacker taking control of your vehicle, and I have doubts that any company can protect all its drivers from a breach forever into the future.
The Good News About Driverless Cars
At the same time, self-driving vehicles have so many advantages. If we can get to a place where this technology is even mostly safe, it could drastically cut down on car accidents (and with it, deaths and terrible injuries), lower insurance premiums, and allow everyone to use their time better when commuting.
My hope is that, as this technology improves, we’ll spend a long time thinking about it and making sure we get it right. It can be very powerful, for better or for worse. Let’s aim for better.
Darrell Castle is a Memphis auto accident lawyer. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, contact him today to discuss your situation for free.