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The Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars are coming, are you ready? People love the idea of a driverless vehicle, but have you spent some time really thinking about the pros and cons? There is a lot of information to dive into, so we won’t waste your time. In this piece, you’ll learn more about self-driving cars, how they work, and the pros and cons of a driverless vehicle.

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What is a Self-Driving Car?

This might come as a shock, but a self-driving car drives itself. All jokes aside, a self-driving car is the newest wave of technology to hit the road.

A self-driving car is branded by Tesla as a car with “autopilot”. In theory, both of these terms mean the same thing, but self-driving cars step outside of Tesla’s shadow.

You might recognize the idea of a self-driving car from a number of different Sci-Fi or futuristic movies. For all intents and purposes, the car drives itself without any interaction from the driver. You can take a nap or watch a movie and the car does all the work for you.

A truly self-driving car comes complete with an advanced algorithm and a ton of sensors. It needs to perform all the duties that a human would otherwise do, so you can only imagine how complex this idea is.

At the core, these types of cars need to accelerate, brake, and steer their way to the destination without anyone getting hurt. The last part of the sentence is a big difference, here. It’s the reason why you can’t throw a cinderblock on your gas pedal and call your Civic a self-driving car.

How Does Autopilot Work?

The nuance of autopilot would require hundreds of pages to really explain. If you want a brief overview, here it is:

Autopilot uses cameras, sensors, and a computer to make the decisions that a driver normally would. Cameras scan the road and environment around the car, acting as your eyes.

The sensors work in junction with the cameras to detect more subtle changes or immediate dangers.

The computer acts as the brain of the operation. It makes decisions and tells the other parts of the car what to do.

Your gas and brake pedals, and your steering wheel will automatically be controlled by the computer as well.

From your perspective, it feels like you’re the passenger of a vehicle. The key difference is that you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.

You’ll start your trip by turning on a car and plugging in a destination. The rest is up to the car.

What Cars Have Autopilot?

Surprisingly enough, only one car brand offers true autopilot, and that’s Tesla. You can find it in any of their S, 3, X, or Y cars.

If you’re looking for autopilot-inspired cars, the playing field gets much larger. Plenty of cars have adaptive cruise control, lane monitoring, steering control, and a boatload of sensors.

Some car brands that can borderline drive themselves are:

Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Polestar, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, VW, and Volvo.

We expect to see this list grow and to see even more cars offering true self-driving capabilities.

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Big tech names like Google have thrown their hat into the ring of self-driving cars. When you hear this news, your ears should perk up. Why? It’s because they see the future of these cars.

If you have a road filled with autonomous cars, then you can expect nearly zero car accidents. The cars will be able to communicate with one another, unlike human drivers can. A blinker only says so much, after all.

By having a fleet of self-driving cars, traffic will become a thing of the past, commutes will be faster, and you’ll see fewer accidents on the road. This is the utopia that people are starting to understand after seeing Tesla’s attempt at autopilot.

Let’s dive into some of these ideas as we talk about the pros and cons of self-driving cars.

The Pros of Self-Driving Cars

Let’s take a look at the benefits of self-driving cars. These topics are widely discussed with experts in different industries, as well as drunk uncles at Thanksgiving.

Fewer Car Crashes

This is the first item on the list on purpose. The biggest benefit of driverless cars is fewer car crashes. Time and time again, people are told about the dangers of distracted driving, reckless driving, drunk driving, and bad drivers.

What happens when you take the human element out of driving? Suddenly all of those dangers disappear. The result is fewer car crashes.

Beyond human error, humans are also slower at perceiving and reacting to threats. A computer can do it a million times faster than we can. This means that a self-driving car can assess a situation and determine the best outcome faster than any of us can.

Environmentally Friendly

Though it’s not mutually exclusive, the thought is that self-driving cars will be fully electric. Take a look at Tesla, for example.

Having a grid of electric, driverless cars will dramatically decrease how much fossil fuel we use and how many greenhouse gases we put out.

Faster Commutes

With a network of cars on autopilot, traffic will be streamlined. Oftentimes, traffic is caused by someone making a mistake or doing something stupid while they’re driving.

With a league of robots controlling the cars on our road, our commutes will be significantly faster. If the road is strictly filled with driverless cars, maybe speed limits will be much higher.

General Cost-Savings

A hidden cost of having human-driven cars on the road is all the medical attention that’s required. It keeps getting brought up, but humans driving cars lead to accidents. Accidents, sadly enough, lead to hospital visits.

With fewer accidents, less money and fewer resources will go to hospitals.

No Need to Focus

This might seem like a no-brainer, but an ideal self-driving car doesn’t require you to focus at all. That means you can play on your phone, watch a movie, eat a meal, take a nap… the list goes on and on.

Without the need to pay attention to the road, you can do other activities while you’re being driven to your destination.

Added Options For the Impaired

A lot of us know someone who can’t drive due to an impairment. It could be physical, mental, age-related, or due to an injury. At any rate, it seems so unfair that these people can’t get around on their own.

A driverless car might be the solution to this problem. Even if someone is impaired, they can still get around using a self-driving car.

What’s achieved is a new sense of independence with these people who are otherwise dependent on others when it comes to traveling.

Accessible Means of Transportation

The other idea of a self-driving car is that there can be fewer restrictions. Would people really need to be 17 or 18 to drive on their own? If the car is doing all the driving, could a younger person sit in the driver’s seat and get around?

What about people who are too drunk to safely operate a vehicle on their own? Would it make sense for them to get in a self-driving car and get home safely?

As you start thinking about these different questions, you’ll arrive at a simple answer: self-driving cars are an accessible way to get around.

Driverless Ubers?

An idea that really interests us is a driverless Uber. Maybe it’s far-fetched, but it seems reasonable to imagine a world where no one owns a car, and we all use driverless Ubers.

The idea is that an autonomous car can pick you up and drive you to your destination without anybody doing the driving. The result is a less expensive, more convenient, and more efficient ridesharing experience.

Potential for Further Commutes

The only thing that sucks about living far from work is physically driving in every morning. You would rather spend that time sleeping, eating, reading the news, or doing anything else.

If your car does the driving for you, now it doesn’t really matter about your commute. You can do the things you love while your car does all the driving.

This opens the door for potentially further commutes. Is the idea of a 2-hour one-way commute so terrible if you can play video games the whole time? This might reshape how we build our cities – rather than clustering all the apartments near the jobs, we can start to spread out more.

On top of that, we talked earlier about how cars will realistically be able to go a lot faster on the roads. If the speed limits double, then you can live twice as far from work and have the same commute!

The Cons of Self-Driving Cars

Sure, there are some downsides of self-driving cars. It’s worth pointing these out so you can get the full picture. Let’s take a look at them.

Potential to Get Hacked

From time to time, you’ll hear about a big hack on the news. Hackers will break into different big companies and steal a ton of personal information.

Driverless cars are also susceptible to hacks, but the results are a lot more fatal. Theoretically, someone can hack into your car and change the driving software. They can change your destination, make your car swerve into a tree, or just turn off your car.

As scary as this thought is, it just means that manufacturers need to focus on cybersecurity.

There’s a Big Learning Curve

Every part of the self-driving industry has a learning curve associated with it. Something like this has never been done before, so it will take a lot of education.

People will have to learn how to drive and take care of their cars. Also how to pick out the right car, what to do if something goes wrong, and what to avoid. Manufacturers and salespeople have a ton of learning to do, too.

Across the board, people need to prepare to go through a learning curve.

Loss of Jobs

Professional drivers are going to lose their jobs. Over-the-road truckers, delivery personnel, taxi drivers, and bus drivers will wind up at the unemployment office.

At the same time, new jobs will be created in the auto, software, cybersecurity, and infrastructure sectors. Who knows if more jobs will be lost or gained?

The Upfront Costs

This level of luxury isn’t cheap, unfortunately. As you look at the closest thing to a self-driving car, a Tesla, you’ll notice this.

Adding their self-driving features to their car can cost around $10,000 on top of their sticker price. That’s just for the car.

There will be continued costs that go into programming, software, updates, and cybersecurity efforts down the road – especially as more cars ditch the driver.

Experts predict that the price for a self-driving car will eventually go way down, we just have to be patient.

How Does a Car Make a Tough Decision?

There’s something that most people have that cars don’t – morality. How does a car make a tough decision that revolves around life or death? It’s a really interesting concept and it often isn’t discussed when people talk about the utopia of driverless cars.

If a pedestrian is jaywalking in the middle of the road, should your car decide to hit the person, veer into another lane and hit that car, or drive you into an adjacent telephone pole to dodge both obstacles? Who can even make that decision?

Since the car is running on an algorithm and programs, these answers need to be told to the car. Should the car value the driver’s life over everyone else’s? It’s a really tricky question.

Glitches Can Be Fatal

Have you ever had a computer glitch when you were checking emails? Pretty frustrating, isn’t it? A quick reboot usually does the trick then you have nothing to worry about.

So what happens when this glitch happens to a car that’s driving 150 mph for you through a highway? It’s an ugly scenario that can happen.

There needs to be a lot of pressure on developers and car manufacturers to make sure all of the bugs are ironed out. Rolling out a car before the glitches are sorted can lead to fatal accidents. It’s similar to a driver passing out while they’re driving.

Who’s Making the Rules?

As we talk more about regulation and rules surrounding self-driving cars, a simple question will pop into your head: who’s making the rules?

If you leave it up to the government, they might impose some strange regulations that don’t make sense and just inconvenience everyone.

If manufacturers are calling the shots, they’ll do whatever possible to make their life easier and yield them more profit.

If the everyday person is making the rules… well, that should terrify you to your core.

The rules in question will revolve around speed limits, who can own and operate a self-driving car, their emergency response protocol, whether or not they should report different data, and so on. The list is incomplete since we don’t even know what to expect when self-driving cars roll out.

Ability for Data Loss

Where there is data, there is data loss. A driverless car will need to store a ton of data within its computers. Stuff like where you live, where you work, what you do, what times you aren’t home, who you can while you drive.

This list of personal information is sitting in the computer of your self-driving car. An interested party could hack in and steal your data without proper security from car manufacturers.

Conclusion

At this point, you are probably filled with hope and fear. The possibility of self-driving cars is very real, and it sounds like it’s coming sooner than we expect. This list of pros and cons of self-driving cars should give you enough insight to know what you’re getting yourself into when you hop into a driver’s seat with no pedals or steering wheel.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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