9 September 2021
11 Mins read

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Driverless Cars?

Think about the future. Will we be using holograms to send messages to loved ones? Will we be living underwater as the Busted song suggested? Will our cars be driven by robots and machines? Well, the latter may not be too far in the future. Driverless cars, although not perfect, are definitely not as futuristic as we think.

A driverless car (sometimes called an autonomous car or self-driving car) is a vehicle that uses a combination of sensors, cameras, radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to drive between destinations without a human operator or someone else directing the car. Over the years we have already been exposed to partially autonomous driving with autopilot and automatic modes. In many new vehicles, we have seen this technology enable cars to park themselves, steer down a motorway, change lanes and adjust speed to oncoming traffic. But, for a vehicle to qualify as fully autonomous, a vehicle must be able to navigate without human intervention to a predetermined destination over roads that have not been adapted for its use.

With huge car companies such as Audi, BMW and Tesla developing and/or testing autonomous cars, these are bound to be a regular sight on our roads pretty soon. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of driverless cars.

What Are The Pros of Driverless Cars?

1) Greater independence for people with disabilities

Research conducted in the USA has suggested that there is a link between the lack of independence, isolation and the rise of health problems and even early death in adults living with disabilities. With the technology in driverless cars improving every year, they hold incredible potential for people with disabilities to enjoy the freedom and independence that most adults have to live spontaneously and to be independent travellers.

With access to vehicles that they can drive/be driven in, it will not only give people in the disabled community more independence but it will give more regular access to schools, universities, jobs and more.

2) Reduced Chance Of Human Error

Recent government data has identified that driver behaviour or human error impacts up to 85% of crashes, and self-driving vehicles can help reduce driver error. The UK Government has suggested that technologies found in driverless cars, such as Automated Lane Keeping Systems, could pave the way for higher levels of automation in future. The development and use of these technologies could even create essential jobs while ensuring our roads remain safe for all drivers. The UK government has long been experimenting with autonomous technology as a way of easing congestion and reducing emissions and human error.

“Automated driving systems could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade through their ability to reduce the single largest cause of road accidents – human error.” Source: SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes

Following a consultation in 2020, it has now been announced that partial self-driving or “hands-free” driving will be allowed (with specified rules in place) on UK roads by the end of 2021. The announcement came as a consultation on The Highway Code rules was launched to ensure the first wave of this technology is used safely and responsibly. So, whilst we may be years off completely ‘driverless’ cars, there are some pros and cons to consider for when that day comes.

3) Smoother Flowing Traffic

Although the technology isn’t fully developed, the theory is if the roads were mostly occupied by autonomous cars, traffic would flow smoothly. Due to their ability to communicate with each other, cars would be able to travel efficiently at optimised distances from each other. This results in less traffic congestion, better route planning and elimination of bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.

What Are The Cons of Driverless Cars?

1) Moral Machine dilemma

This is one of the most common arguments in the driverless car discussion. What would a “robot” do when having to make a very “human” decision? Think of it this way, When a driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the road illegally, they are making a moral decision that shifts risk from the pedestrian to the people in the car. Will the technology ever reach the stage of it being able to make such ethical judgments on its own?

2) Driverless Cars Might Not be Suited for All Weathers

As seen with car technology available today, weather can sometimes interfere with its effectiveness. Heavy rain or snow can impact parking sensors and lane navigation. So what happens with autonomous cars’ laser sensors during harsh weather?

At the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, Ford announced that it is working with the University of Michigan to develop a sensor solution based on high-resolution 3-D digital maps. These maps include data about road markings, signs, geography, topography and landmarks. But the issue still remains that it’s quite another to do the same thing when its sensors cannot sense the road through snow, or when visibility is limited by falling precipitation compared to sunny skies.

3) Vulnerability to Hacking & Bugs

Computer and online safety have become a permanent concern in modern-day society. The fact is, any computer device connected to the internet is vulnerable to hacking. With driverless cars running on AI and machine learning, it means that they rely heavily on the software that runs their components. If a hacker gets into the system, they can control every aspect of the car. Most self-driving cars are made up of not one but 30 to 100 computers. While the software is improving every year, it’s still a lot of technology that could malfunction.

Google has been developing the self-driving car project since 2009, with the goal of driving autonomously over ten uninterrupted 100-mile routes. With the technology improving year by year, the public has now been invited to join the first trial of autonomous vehicles operated by the Waymo Driver and introduced its first fully autonomous vehicles operated by the Waymo Driver on public roads without anyone in the driver’s seat.

There is no doubt that we will have some form of driverless cars soon on our roads – and they will impact our lives – but would you feel safe in a self-driving car?