The announcement that Google had managed to log over 1.5 million miles in the self-driving cars that it has been testing came as somewhat of a surprise to those that were unaware that the age of the self-driving car is almost upon us.
According to the most recent update, road testing of self-driving cars is now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. But for consumers, who have been seeing more and more automation going on in the cars they drive today, is it something that they are ready to handle?
Here are some potential drawbacks from a driver's standpoint:
When drivers are on the road and working through heavy traffic conditions, understanding how other human drivers will react to a crisis or potential accident situation allows them to often make the right decision based on experience. As the decisions they make can keep them safe, it is worthwhile being able to rely upon that base of experience. With self-driving cars, there is no way to tell how the car will react when there is a dangerous situation, making it a good idea for people to consider defensive driving courses that include that type of information.
It's all in the programming
The one time that Google seems to have upset people with its driving program was when it was pulled over for being set to drive too slowly in the lanes that it was in. One problem, therefore, for drivers when self-driving cars are rolled out to everyone will be that they may see hazards on the road if consumers are allowed to set a program to match a driving style that is unfit for traffic conditions. In the same way that older people tend to drive slowly and more cautiously with vehicles that they are controlling, it may be the case that if there is an option to drive more slowly, some people will opt to put that into the computer. At the same time, if a self-driving car is not programmed to adjust to road conditions, it may end up driving too fast or too slow when it is near your car.
Stop and go problem potential
Several of the accidents that Google cars have had during their test phase have come when cars rear-ended their vehicles as they sat at a stop sign. And while you can hardly consider that type of accident to be the fault of the self-driving car, there are some questions about whether or not drivers that are used to creeping up and moving quickly at stop signs with their human counterparts are prepared to actually compensate for a car that may dawdle because it isn't programmed to drive aggressively like people do at stop signs. In other words, if there is an opening after a person has come to a complete stop at a stop sign, most people take it and go out into the intersection, knowing that other cars will yield them the right-of-way. If the car is self-driving, it may wait its turn, but it may not move with the same speed that a human would.
Although it isn't something that will occur frequently, some drivers may be a bit leery about sharing the road with a self-driving car that is relying upon a laser system mounted on it to map the road as it moves along. It is potentially possible to create problems for that type of system and it is uncertain what the self-driving car's reaction will be. Will it make the road more dangerous as it attempts to stop? Or will it not even understand that it is being hacked? On the positive side, the US government has already started testing vehicles to ensure that they cannot be hacked while they are being driven. So far, they have managed to detail all of the potential problems that owners might face so that manufacturers can make the changes they need to.
It will likely be several years before drivers begin to share the road with completely autonomous cars. When that day arrives, it should be after most of the common concerns that drivers have are factored into the engineering and design of a self-driving vehicle.