Driverless cars – they seem more like fan fiction than fact. Yet there are already several major automobile manufacturers and technology companies working on this concept. Driverless cars could be a transformative technology that could have wide-ranging implications for national security, the environment, economy and society in general.
There are a few things that must be taken into account when talking about driverless vehicles –
- Can a computer be considered a legal driver? – In early 2016, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ruled that computers could be considered legal drivers under U.S Federal Law! With the joint efforts of automakers, federal lawmakers and technology companies, driverless cars might be in widespread use much sooner than either drivers or policymakers expect. Automobile manufacturers and technology companies have committed large funds towards driverless technology, and governments are also providing the required encouragement. Toyota, one of the world’s largest car companies, is aiming to deliver driverless cars to the market within the next three years. At this pace of rapid development, developing a national (and global) strategy for driverless vehicles is the urgent need of the hour for transportation officials.
- Implications for national security – Driverless vehicles will not be solely limited to civilian use. The U.S military has taken a keen interest in self-driving technology that can be sent into combat for a number of functions, such as re-supplying troops or logistics support. Driverless military vehicles would face all the issues of regular self-driving cars, along with a number of other challenges. Not having the advanced mapping available to civilian driverless vehicles while deployed in enemy territory during combat is just one example. Military vehicles may also need an ‘override’ where a human operator could take control through a remote real-time connection, along with a ‘blended’ option – i.e. the vehicle should allow remote operation or be self-driven as and when required.
- Guidelines will be a government prerogative – Autonomous vehicles are anticipated to account for nearly one-quarter of the global automobile market within the next two decades. This is due to favourable policies in major automobile markets such as China, Japan, Korea, the U.S and the E.U. Autonomous vehicles can have a larger-than-life impact in several key areas such as ride-sharing, delivery trucks, senior citizen transport and industrial applications. Driverless cars will provide much-needed comfort, convenience and safety and it is vital for governments to create suitable guidelines on how to commercialise driverless technology in the transportation industry.
- Will improve safety by leaps and bounds – The very concept of entering a self-driving car scares a great deal of people – especially those who have been scarred before either with technology or in a road accident. However, if regulators and carmakers are able to strike the right balance, driverless cars could save thousands of lives every year. Autonomous vehicles all but eliminate the single largest cause of accidents – human error. Many companies including Tesla, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz are taking a step-by-step approach by installing increasingly advanced automated systems in their cars to make driving safer, less monotonous and more comfortable.
- Potential to save billions – State and local governments across the world make billions of dollars in revenue by issuing various kinds of tickets, fines, towing fees and other driver-related infractions. While the safety provided by autonomous cars will dramatically reduce this revenue stream, the technology could potentially save taxpayers approximately $10 billion every year by eliminating transportation system bottlenecks such as road damage, congestion and accidental deaths.
- Regulatory challenges need to be addressed – Several countries such as America have state laws that may differ from one state to another. A major challenge for autonomous vehicles is overcoming this legal fragmentation and having standard regulations across geographic boundaries. Questions such as who regulates these vehicles, how much can they regulate, privacy, legal liability and data collection issues can easily be resolved with this technology. Addressing these challenges head on and ensuring rules are unambiguous should be high priorities in all countries considering allowing driverless cars on their roads.
Even if the public sector refuses to innovate, massive amounts of money and lives can be saved with the arrival of driverless cars. The future looks bright indeed for driverless cars and it cannot come soon enough!