A driverless car is one of those things that has been “on the horizon” for years now, but the horizon has showed up in a big way: they were everywhere on the showroom floor at CES, and you could even take a Lyft ride in a driverless car while in Vegas.
While they’re not a mainstream option just yet, they are definitely on the roads here and there, being tested, and they’re coming to a driveway near you sooner than you think. In fact, the brands who are making the most progress (think Volvo, Tesla and BMW) are sinking tons of money into fine-tuning the precision of the technology, not to mention reducing consumer costs.
The question remains: Would you ride in a driverless car? It’s one I’m struggling with.
Here’s what we know about the technology so far: It has the potential to be a heck of a lot safer than cars driven by humans long-term. In 2016, more than 37,000 Americans died in car crashes caused by human error, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s not to say that a computer-operated vehicle will be 100 percent safe, but there’s a significantly lower risk of crashes caused by late-night drowsiness, drunk or—increasingly problematic—distracted driving, too.
While that may be true, how willing are we to give up control? It’s a tricky thing to let go of, especially when we’ve been trained our whole lives to drive defensively, check our blind spots and keep our eyes on the road. If my kids are in the car, will I be willing to put their personal safety, and my own, in the hands of a robot (or the company that programmed it)? And even if I can be sick, tired, emotional, eating an In-N-Out Burger or otherwise distractible, will I ever truly feel like a robot has better instincts about the world around me?
Currently, my car offers a “driverless” mode— not fully actualized, but getting there. It behaves a lot like cruise control, except it takes over the car’s accelerator and brakes so it can slow down and speed up with traffic, and stay in the correct lane. You’re still in the driver’s seat, but you basically have a backup that you can activate in a pinch. My car has this, and it’s a little unnerving: you don’t know exactly how much to trust the car, especially when you’re going at freeway speed. I use it, but tentatively. My husband’s Tesla, however, has earned his trust, and he lets the car do most of the driving. It weirds me out, but I’ve never seen it falter.
So, what do you think? If a self-driving vehicle is an option the next time you’re in the market to buy a new car, would you go for it?