Driverless Cars: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Step In The Road

Many online news sources are stating that fossil fuelled cars – petrol, diesel, and liquified natural gas (LNG) to you and me – will be off the road by as early as 2025, making way for battery-driven and electric cars. From that point, it can’t be too many years before the driver get taken out of the equation too, and our roads become processions of driverless cars.

Coming to a City Near You Soon

It makes sense for that to happen quite quickly since the worst scenario is roads being shared by driven and driverless cars, and the potential chaos that can bring.  In all recorded accidents involving driverless cars, it has been the driven car that has been in the wrong, and there yet to be an accident between two or more driverless cars.  That statement alone is testament to the power of the anti-collision software and in a swoop, we potentially banish car accidents and problems with drink-driving!  But is it going to be all plain sailing, when it comes along, or are we – the human element – likely to muck it all in some way?

Driverless cars have been trundling around parts of America for some time now, under test and demonstrating just how damned good they are at getting us from A to B.  Currently there are thirty independent companies trialling driverless cars in the Los Angeles area alone and already questions are being raised about how these vehicles will affect our infrastructure and what legislation needs to be in place to support them.

Who’s to Blame?

One of the main points of legislation regards insurance and the culpability of blame in the event on an accident.  Ignore the previous statement regarding he fact that there have been no accidents between driverless cars, and consider who would be to blame were it to happen.  To even begin to answer that, we need to understand what driverless actually means.  According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) there are six levels of car/passenger interaction of which the highest two are considered full or near full automation which does not rely on any human within the vehicle as a back-up system in the event of an emergency.

This means that, even if they wanted to, a passenger could not override the system and take control.  Ergo, in these cases, any collision has to be a fault of the system and blame cannot be apportioned to the human occupants.  At levels below this, however, things become a lot more blurred, and that is going to take some legislation to solve.  Having a mix of cars seems to be a real problem, so should legislation take over there too, and effectively ban private car ownership?

Whether the anti-collision software will be subtle enough to deal with errant pedestrians and bicycles needs to be proven, but it’s not just about cars, lorries and busses, so further legislation aimed at taming those elements too may need to be strengthened.

City Centres, but not as we Know Them.

Assuming that fully automated cars become the vehicle of choice – or indeed the only vehicle on the road, our town and city infrastructure is in for a bit of a change too.  The UK currently has around 1.2 million parking spaces available, many of which would become redundant with a demise in personal parking needs.  Town and city centres would need to be accessible by either foot or other automated systems to prevent a gridlock of driverless cars, and the notion of just jumping in the car to drive a mile to the shops would become alien.

Deliveries by drone or scheduled automated vehicle, and all car journeys completed in an automated box sound like the stuff of far-off science fiction, but it is almost certainly something that is only ten years away.

Taken from the June 2017 issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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