Over the past few years the hype around autonomous cars, i.e. self-driving cars has continued to grow. From Google to Apple to Tesla everyone seems to want to have a piece of the pie, in what would undoubtedly as big a motoring revolution as when Henry Ford introduced the world to the Model-T. However as companies continue to invest millions of dollars into self-driving tech, their practical use in the real world is something that will take time to fully implement. Though there have been strides made, Tesla have a full line-up of cars that offer an autopilot option, a recent incident involving a woman in Arizona brought to light once again, the fact that self drive cars aren’t a 100% safe.
Moments before the fatal Uber self-driving car crash
The accident in question saw a woman who was crossing the street with a bicycle at around 10 pm getting hit point blank by an autonomous Uber Volvo SUV while the car was doing around 40 mph (65kmph). Sadly, this is not the first incident involving self-driving cars where someone has lost their life, in 2016 A Tesla Model S failed to spot a truck that was crossing the road, the car in question drove straight under the 18-wheeler resulting in the death of a 40 year old.
Tesla Autopilot predicts crash seconds before it happens
You could argue that these incidents are the anomalies and for the most part the tech has been progressing well and is moving in the right direction. But what you also have to remember is the fact that, countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. have relatively disciplined drivers. If you were to take a country like India where road etiquette such as lane discipline, giving a pedestrian the right of way and proper roads are almost nonexistent, would a self driving car fare as well as a human in these conditions? Given the in car footage that has come to light post the incident in Arizona, it would be close to impossible for a car to drive itself around Indian roads.
To continue with the trend of self-driving cars in India, the Indian government are even weighing up the possibly of making this technology illegal. The reasoning for this is not under safety grounds but due to the fact that a large portion of the population relies on the income earned from driving taxis, cars, trucks and auto-rickshaws. In fact the Transport and Highways minister was quoted saying, “ I am very clear on this. We won’t allow any technology that takes away jobs. In a country where you have unemployment, you can’t have a technology that ends up taking people’s jobs.”
Now this sentiment might be counted as a little short-sighted as the sheer volume of road accidents that occur in India can be put down to the illiteracy and the carelessness of the same individuals who rely on driving vehicles for a living, however it is an argument that will come to light if the technology were to become mainstream. There is also a counter argument to be made that autonomous cars would definitely reduce the number of road accidents that take place in the country but this would only apply to the cars and quite possibly busses and trucks on the road, what about the vast majority of motorcycles found on Indian roads? Not to mention the various animals that cross the road and also the irresponsible pedestrians who pay no heed to their surroundings. Having both self-driving and human controlled vehicles on the road together in India would lead to absolute chaos on the streets.
In conclusion, there is no doubting that in a utopian world, self-driving cars could well be the future of motoring. There’s also no getting around the fact that companies like Tesla and Uber have done a phenomenal job in developing the technology to where it is now, however the real issues may arise when years of research and development not to mention time and money go down the drain when accidents such as the one in Arizona take place leading to a backlash from consumers as well as lobbies and governments. That being said, currently there are still a large number of accidents taking place with humans behind the wheel of a vehicle, maybe a more pragmatic approach to the entire scenario would be to see if autonomous cars and vehicles can significantly reduce the number of road related deaths on a year on year basis.