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Driverless Cars: Wave of the future or Major Road Hazard?


Imagine driving down the road, glancing into the vehicle next to you, and noticing that the other driver is not paying attention.  Unfortunately, this happens everyday. Distracted driving is a dangerous reality.  Drivers get distracted by texting, talking, or eating and take their full attention from the road.  Now imagine driving down the road, glancing into the vehicle next to you, and not seeing a driver at all.  This too will likely be a reality sooner than you think.  Google, and similar technology-focused companies, have been working on developing driverless cars for several years now.  Test versions of these vehicles actually do exist and drive on private roadways.  Technology companies and car manufacturers project that by 2020 – four years from now – nearly 10 million driverless cars will be on the roads.

It takes a miniscule amount of time for a distracted driver to cause a collision.  Whether it’s a phone call, a text message, another person in the vehicle, or simply a move to turn up the radio, a driver who takes his full attention from the road increases the chances he will cause a collision, or be able to react in time to avoid one.  There is a proven decreased response time for talking to other people in the car, talking on the phone while driving and for texting and driving.  With a driverless car, the response time is unknown.  See great materials regarding statistics and studies available through End Distracted Driving at www.enddd.org.

It is hard to argue with the recent advances in technology that have made cars safer to drive.  Lane detection sensors, crash prevention radar, autonomous braking and cars that park themselves have all helped to reduce the hazards of distracted driving.  If the driver is not paying close enough attention, the car will react for them.  This technology can help to prevent collisions.

However, technology is neither perfect nor infallible.  Anyone who has ever used a computer, tablet, or smartphone has experienced a sudden, unexplained system failure or frozen screen.  Newton’s first law of motion tells us that objects in motion tend to stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force.  If a driverless car experiences a sudden system failure or frozen controls, what happens?  Does it simply shut down, or continue to move until it runs out of gas or hits something?

As society knows, virtually any piece of technology can be hacked or broken into.  Until we know it is impossible to hack into the systems that control driverless cars, society may decide it is too great a risk for these vehicles to be on public roadways.  If someone with nefarious intentions were to hack a guidance system that controls driverless cars, it is not unimaginable to think that they would not just gain control over one vehicle, but they would have control over every vehicle that runs on that guidance system.  In essence, if a guidance system was hacked, someone could turn every driverless vehicle on the road into a weapon.

In addition to driverless cars, driverless commercial trucks may also be in our future and are already being tested on the roads in the U.S. in the form of tandem driving.  The goal behind driverless trucking technology is that at some point a long-haul truck driver will be able to take a nap or take a break for the next 500 miles while the truck drives itself for several hours or is controlled by a lead truck.  The computer system that drives the truck will tell the driver when it is safe to remove himself from responsibility of the massive and extremely heavy vehicle that he is driving.  Imagine driving down the road, glancing into the cab of the massive cargo truck gliding along next to you, and seeing it empty.


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