For car enthusiasts, there is no better feeling than when you become part of your machine. Shifting gears and exploding out of a corner fills you with adrenaline. You rely on your basic senses and instincts to push your car to the limit, but remain in control.
This control is a vital while navigating city streets. Great drivers remain aware of their surroundings and anticipate traffic. We notice texting, or drunk drivers and stay the hell out of their way. Robots may be able to analyze surroundings, but they can’t analyze human behaviour. They must not be allowed to replace human drivers on our roads.
Google’s robots hit the streets
Google wants level 4 autonomous cars taking over roads by 2020. Level 4 means there is no steering wheel, break pedal or gas pedal. In other words, no human control whatsoever.
“I cannot deliver this point more strongly,” says Chris Urmson, technical director of Google’s self-driving car project. “We need to be careful about the assumption that having a person behind the wheel will make the technology more safe.” Google is displaying corporate arrogance if they think their technology i worthy of 100 per cent control.
Who says robots are safer?
Most of us have had our computers crash, and it’s frustrating. But if a level 4 car’s computer crashes, it’s the difference between life and death. Imagine you’re flying towards a concrete wall with no steering wheel or break pedal. It sounds like a scenario from a silly sci-fi movie, but it could happen as early as 2020.
Weather is also a major complication. Laser technologies can’t handle heavy rain, snow or fog. So if you live outside Silicon Valley, you’re stuck behind the wheel.
These computers also have difficulties with left hand turns, police hand signals and different road regulations. What happens if you cross state lines? When you get pulled over for making an illegal turn, Google won’t pick up the bill.
When there is roadwork, a traffic director holds up a double-sided sign and you know whether to stop or to move along slowly. Laser technology can’t decipher this simple situation, and if you’re napping at the time, you’ll be late for work. All of these are common occurrences, especially when commuting in urban areas. Autonomous cars are obviously not equipped to handle driving in large cities.
Security and privacy matter
Tech Times reports that Consumer Watchdog asked Google to place restrictions on the information they gather. They want Google to only use this information for vehicle navigation. Unsurprisingly, Google refused this request.
Google is infamous for collecting data and selling it to the highest bidder. Driverless cars would provide extensive data about where customers go and everything they do. This takes privacy concerns to a whole new level and Consumer Watchdog raises some important questions.
Hacking is another issue. Tech Times reported that hackers were able to remotely disable a semi autonomous Jeep Grand Cherokee. Also, Fiat Chrysler Automotive recalled 1.4 million vehicles because they feared their software was vulnerable to attacks. These are semi autonomous cars, not the level 4 cars Google proposes. Customers could be paying $20,000-$40,000 more for a car that could be disabled at any time.
Theoretically, hackers could take full control of your car. If they are able to disable your tracking system and lock you in, you may be held for ransom. Imagine your own car taking you hostage. Your family would pay the kidnaper online and your car would take you home. This would be the ultimate perfect crime. It sounds crazy, but hacking is a threat to all computer-based technologies, driverless cars are no different.
Distracted driving is a cultural problem
Google and Tesla argue that they can dramatically reduce the amount of automotive fatalities. In America, 37,000 people die each year in car accidents, most caused by human error. This seems like a valid argument, but is it really?
Let’s compare the United States and Germany. In 2012, traffic related deaths in the US were 104 per million people and only 44 per million in Germany. Germany’s licensing process and driver education programs require higher standards than the US. They prepare their young drivers more effectively.
America also favours automatic cars, which makes it easier for drivers to lose focus or become distracted. You cannot text and drive when you’re ready to shift gears at any moment.
In America using your handheld devices is still legal in many states. How are you going to enforce an anti texting law when handheld devices are still legal? That’s right, your not.
Wear your seat belts!
The year is 2017 and somehow riding motorcycles without helmets and driving without seat belts is still legal. 48 per cent of people killed in America are not wearing seat belts. Humans are not taking responsibility for our own lives. It does not matter whether you are in a regular car or a driverless car. If you crash and you are not wearing a seatbelt, you are going to be seriously hurt or killed. We can reduce the number of people killed in car accidents by changing people’s attitudes towards seat belts.
It’s easy for Google to argue that autonomous cars save lives when the number of people killed is so high. We can reduce this number and remain in control of our own vehicles. All you need to do is buckle up and drive with caution.
We need to fix humans, not employ robots
The real problem is young Americans cannot be trusted to drive, especially without being distracted. Even if you allow autonomous cars, not everyone is going to buy them. Many people will refuse to buy them and kids will still be driving.
Our senses and experience make us better at responding to the various challenges on the roads. We need to pay attention to our surroundings, at all times. Seat belts need to be mandatory. Cell phones need to be illegal, and we need to educate new generations. They need to be taught how to drive skilfully and safely in theory and in practice. We do not need autonomous cars to stay safe. We need a North America-wide commitment to changing our driving culture.