Article by Tyson Wang
Autonomous driving has, recently, become a hot topic. With Tesla’s rise as an automobile company, autonomous driving has come into the spotlight, as Tesla’s cars were some of first that were widely available to the populace. As other manufacturers such as Ford and Audi start to join the trend, it is important to have an understanding of not only what autonomous driving is but also the potential positive and negative effects that could arise with it (Muoio 2017).
Broadly speaking, an autonomous car is one that is safely able to traverse its surroundings without any human input. Autonomous cars do this by having a multitude of sensors spread across the car’s chassis that connect with a robust computer in order to turn the sensor data into transportation instructions. Although currently there are no cars that are fully autonomous, cars have started to rise on the autonomous driving scale. This scale, ranging from 0 to 5, describes the extent at which the car can travel by itself, with 0 being fully manual and 5 being fully autonomous. Currently, Tesla’s autonomous driving capabilities lie between the 2 and 3 range, while a competitor, Audi, recently unveiled that the next model of its A8 line will have full level 3 capabilities (Reese 2016).
One of the biggest advantages that could come with autonomous driving is that it increases the safety of vehicular transportation. Globally, around 1.25 million people lose their lives to traffic-related accidents every year. According to the Huffington Post, the three leading causes of these accidents are distracted driving, driving under the influence, and speeding; in fact, in their list of 15 major causes, 9 were solely due to human error (King 2016). Autonomous driving become the norm could provide much greater road safety by minimizing the possible errors due to humans. Furthermore, as more cars become autonomous and communicate with each other, accidents could also be exponentially minimized as the amount of human unpredictability decreases.
Another large advantage that could arise from autonomous driving would be increased mobility through a surge in the use of ridesharing services. Already, services such as Uber and Didi Chuxing have put a large emphasis on autonomous driving technologies, going so far as to establish specific branches of their companies that specialize in the area. With the decreased costs of mobility due to the lack of a human driver, the price per mile could fall to as low as 35 cents according to analysts, as opposed to the $2.86 that a customer currently pays per mile in San Francisco (Huston 2016).
However, one of the largest downsides that could result from an increased prevalence in autonomous driving is the loss of human freedoms. Should autonomous transportation become the norm, and the above safety benefits do manifest themselves, regulators may find themselves pressured by many groups, including road safety advocates and insurance lobbyists, to start imposing stricter standards to the acquisition of a driver’s license in the name of safety. Should this happen, auto enthusiasts, a community of up to 390 million globally, would find their hobby being intruded on by the state (Noble 2017). The use of cars as a means of self expression, too, might find itself restricted on as more stringent requirements arise for both the ownership of cars and the qualification of cars as street-legal.
Autonomous driving is a technology that has both positive and negative potential. Although it could provide great safety benefits, the restrictions of personal freedoms could prove too great a cost for some. Whatever the case, it is clear that its far-reaching impact will not be insubstantial.
Huston, Caitlin. “Driverless cars could cost 35 cents per mile for the Uber consumer .” MarketWatch, 19 Sept. 2016, www.marketwatch.com/story/demand-for-driverless-cars-could-boost-uber-to-2016-09-19.
King, Laiza. “Top 15 Causes Of Car Accidents And How You Can Prevent Them.” The Huffington Post, Oath Inc, 31 Aug. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/laiza-king-/top-15-causes-of-car-accidents_b_11722196.html.
Muoio, Danielle. “The 18 companies most likely to get self-Driving cars on the road first.” Business Insider, 17 Sept. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/the-companies-most-likely-to-get-driverless-cars-on-the-road-first-2017-4.
Noble, Jonathan. “Formula 1’s television viewership in Britain fell to a 12-Year low last season, with audience figures plummeting by 5.1 million viewers.” Vice, 6 Mar. 2017, sports.vice.com/en_au/article/537zbb/uk-formula-1-viewership-dropped-to-12-year-low-in-2016.
Reese, Hope. “Autonomous driving levels 0 to 5: Understanding the differences.” Tech Republic, 20 Jan. 2016, www.techrepublic.com/article/autonomous-driving-levels-0-to-5-understanding-the-differences/.
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