Thursday, February 22, 2018
Fuddy Duddy Columnists Hop In to the Driverless Car Debate

WASHINGTON, D.C. Oct. 12 (DPI) – The debate over electric cars may be over- they will be ruling our roads soon enough. But what about self-driving vehicles? That debate is just getting started, and columnists across the spectrum – most with little expertise in transportation policy or technology – aren’t on board yet, and neither are many readers.

Moderate economist Robert Samuelson this week offered that the risks of having a computer drive your car will outweigh the substantial benefits. For one thing, like all network devices, car computers will always be susceptible to outside threats.   It’s a concern more widely held by the older generation: “The more we depend on digital technology for everyday business and pleasure, the more we become vulnerable to potentially catastrophic disruptions,” the 71-year-old Samuelson wrote. “Cars and trucks are but the latest examples.”

Of course, many Americans – especially younger, urban Americans with no strong connection to the driving experience – are all for driverless cars, which they see as the next inevitable step in the technology revolution.   With the widespread use of driverless cars, auto insurance rates would plummet, as would the number of traffic fatalities, still stubbornly high at about 30,000 deaths annually. The risks on the road have always been too great, critics say. As one popular post put it: “I’ll take the possible glitches in self-driving cars over the drunks, texters, road raging drivers that we all must share the road with.”

One thing is certain: A broad and deep debate on driverless cars is warranted. Driverless cars represent a much, much larger change in everyday life than most of us are contemplating now, certainly more than the current shift to electric cars. America for the last 100 years or so has virtually defined itself by the personal, independent experience of driving your own car, dependent on no one else save for a mechanic or gas station attendant now and then.

Many of the most popular comments linked to Samuelson’s column share his concern:

Thank you for bringing this up. I’m in silicon valley, and everybody I know in that end of the world is horrified by these things. They’re a privacy nightmare, and an obvious first choice for the first act of WW3. Nevermind stopping 10% of the cars on the road, just make them all take a left turn. NOW.
Or floor the accelerator. You could make 911 look like a cakewalk. Even better: trash all the self driving trucks. Now you’re at war, with whatever damage the trucks did, and no domestic transportation fleet left to move material around to factories. Trains only get you so far. Except for certain, very limited special cases, I’m having serious trouble seeing any upside to these things that outweighs the spectacular vulnerabilities and risks.

I am not looking forward to being behind a driverless car as it plods along oblivious to its surroundings, other than the edge of pavement and traffic controls. I do not trust some programmer somewhere to understand driving conditions across the country. These are the same people who gave us windows 8.
I understand the benefits, the time gained, the lives saved. But we already have uber which at least provides a wage with similar benefits to the passengers, but without the tech issues and cost.

Other than on clearly marked, modern freeways, self driving cars are going to fail for the foreseeable future. The task of navigating an unfamiliar town is much more complicated than the engineers anticipate. Mark my words.

I certainly wouldn’t get into a vehicle today that claimed to be “self driving” simply because the technology isn’t quite there yet.
but when it is, sign me up (and i love to drive). more importantly, sign up the drunk/texting/sleepy/blind/incompetent/aggressive drivers that are going to crash into me.
simply because the government hasn’t done a great job advocating for *any* safety measures is meaningless. no company is going to be selling self driving cars that are less capable than human driven vehicles, because the liability risk is just too immense. the market will do what the government won’t.


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