Self-Driving Cars May Change Rules of the Road

Self-driving cars cannot get here fast enough. Well, at least in my world. Some days I feel like I spend hours in the car -- carting kids around, running errands, making appointments, etc. That’s a lot of time spent sitting and not doing a whole lot of anything except watching the road and singing along badly to Adele until your two small children beg you to stop because their ears hurt.

That’s time that could be spent doing something productive, or even just fun. Heck, if cars could drive themselves, you could theoretically wave goodbye to your kids from your driveway as they head off to school. Although that idea freaks me out, because I love technology, but I love my kids more and sometimes computers glitch.


Anyway. We already have cars that self-parallel park and warn you if you start drifting lanes, so how far off are the ones that completely drive themselves? Some experts predict autonomous vehicles will take over the road as early as 2040. If that’s the case, it’s entirely possible that my grandchildren will never learn to drive. I wonder if that’s as weird to me as it probably is to my dad that I don’t have a clue how to drive a stick shift…

Weird or not, it looks like driverless cars are on their way down the turnpike. Actually, they’re already here -- just not on the market. Google cars have been driving around California roads for a couple of years now, and some employees even commute to work in them. California, Nevada, and Florida have all passed legislation legalizing self-driving vehicles.

The cars use computers, sensors, and cameras to navigate to their final destination, and might be very successful at reducing the number of accidents that occur. Computers don’t have that same brain-to-action delay that humans do, so they’d be able to put the breaks on immediately in the case of a sudden stop, or know which way to turn the wheel in a spinout.

Side note: I wonder if they’ll have an ‘I break for bunnies’ setting …

Now comes the question of usability and responsibility. The cars may drive themselves, but they still have a human in charge. How alert does the ‘driver’ have to be in case he or she needs to take over control? Who’s at fault if there is an accident? How will they affect our privacy -- will the data be collected and stored somewhere? Then could that data be used to provide an alibi? I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of judges and juries trying to answer those questions and more in the coming years.

While the scientists and engineers figure out the technology, and the legislators figure out the legality, I’ll be sitting in traffic daydreaming about being able to do something aside from driving while sitting there. Put my name on the list for purchase as soon as I can afford one.

Would you buy a self-driving car?

Image via jenny8lee/Flickr

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