If you’re like me you have been hearing rumblings of self-driving cars for some time, but now more than ever. A few years back we heard that companies like Google and Tesla were developing such technology. Now more progressive measures are taking place in California and Pennsylvania with additional states close behind. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a millennial or not, but part of me is very excited to see how self-driving cars will evolve in the coming years.
I hate traffic and get really nervous when I see reckless driving. As these cars are first implemented I think there will be a difficult transition period; some people are going to approve of the vehicles and some will not. The cost factor will deter sales; therefore, not everyone will be driving autonomous vehicles which could be dangerous. Nevertheless, over the next decade or two self-driving cars are going to enter the roadways and replace regular vehicles. Roads will be less congested, less dangerous, and in better shape. This would be ideal for not only myself but for millions of other people as well. I recently visited NYC and it amazed me at how long it takes to get in and out of the city, and how long it takes just to get through one set of lights. My Uber ride that was 4 minutes away actually took over 15 minutes to get to me because some cars were more aggressive than others, some pedestrians kept blocking the street, and not enough cars could make it through the traffic lights. With self-driving cars, traffic will be able to move more efficiently; saving time and stress.
A lot of legislative changes are coming and current infrastructure could start to look dramatically different with self-driving cars entering the roadways. Self-driving vehicles have different classification levels of autonomy such as: hands on, hands off, eyes off, mind off, and driver off. Most car companies are positioning themselves to develop mind off or driver off cars; which would mean vehicles limited to completely self-driving. To my surprise I found out that if a car has full autonomy there is the possibility that a driver can summon their vehicle by phone and it will drive to their location without a human in the car. This means that a person could take their car to work and then have the car drive home to park and wait to be summoned back at the end of the day. Something like this could definitely cut down on the number of parking spaces needed in cities. If ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft continue with self-driving cars they could also cut down on the amount of parking spaces and vehicles in cities. These ride shares could act more like a to-and-from transportation model like buses or subways, but more exact. The ride shares could pick up multiple riders along the way into the city and drop each one off at a single location or individual locations. When less cars enter the city less emissions will be released into the air and less parking spaces will be needed.
[Picture of an Uber Self-Driving Ford Focus on the streets of Pittsburgh, PA]
San Francisco, California is welcoming self-driving cars with open arms to help address their housing issue. They believe that with the implementation of self-driving cars their city will be cleaner, more efficient, have more space for housing, and there will be fewer traffic fatalities. They believe that self-driving cars won’t need as much parking, therefore a number of parking lots and spaces can be turned into housing or greenspace. With increased housing, they can meet their housing needs. They believe that fewer people will be on the roads when more people that work in the city can afford to live in the city with the additional housing options. With fewer people and cars on the roads, road size can be decreased and when everyone is using self-driving cars traffic lights can disappear, since vehicles are communicating with each other.
San Francisco’s belief makes sense because as stated earlier, if cars can drop people off at work and then go back home, parking spaces can definitely be removed. San Francisco believes they can reduce the amount of parking spaces to a third of what they have now. This idea sounds great to expand city housing and use smart city technology, but how will cities be able to earn revenue with fewer people paying for parking spots? If more people are using rideshare, emissions are being saved, but now less vehicles are paying tolls. Fortunately, if there are less cars, spending should also decrease as road maintenance will be less needed.
Self-driving cars have some more unexpected consequences. For example, with full autonomy the amount of traffic accidents and fatalities related to human error will decrease drastically. Errors on the part of self-driving cars will undoubtedly account for some new accidents. These may be few, but one person has already lost their life due to a Tesla Autopilot vehicle crash last year.
California has implemented regulations stating that the passenger/driver in self-driving cars must hold a valid driver’s license, vehicles must have a steering wheel, and a brake. This makes sense as a precaution in case something does happen with the vehicle and a driver needs to take over in an emergency. However, Google’s current self-driving car is not acceptable to use in California because it does not have a steering wheel or a brake. Part of the reason I liked the idea of self-driving cars so much is because it allows for people with disabilities, handicaps, the elderly, those that are inebriated, and others to have access to an easy and convenient mode of transportation. But, if a driver with valid license and of sound mind is required to operate a self-driving vehicle, then self-driving cards won’t help these situations. Going back to San Francisco’s plan, will they allow cars to drive themselves without a driver in them? How can we decrease the use of parking spaces if cars are not allowed to drive themselves home?
[Photo of Secretary Kerry sitting in one of Google’s Self Driving Cars, noticeably missing is the steering wheel and brake pedal]
Another question that I have is when vehicles have full autonomy, will people even need to know how to drive a car? Will teenagers and adults need licenses? In the years to come will parents be able to put their young children in a car by themselves and send the car to the babysitters house or a friend’s house to play? How will law enforcement be able to stop an empty car that is driving itself?
The idea of self-driving cars sounds great — it is going to save space, be more efficient, and convenient for users, but more thought, preparation, and work needs to be put into the cars, legislation, and infrastructure before implementation and success can emerge. Cities and states will need to update their infrastructure to include trackers and transmitters to help self-driving cars operate in cities. They will need strong networking capabilities to control and manage city infrastructure such as street lighting, traffic lights, bridges, tolls, crosswalks, environmental control, and emergency services. Companies involved in developing self-driving cars need to cooperate with government and cities to work together to make this dream a reality. Cities need to be just as smart as or even smarter than self-driving cars to be safe and secure.
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