Google announced this month that they are unleashing a fleet of their self-driving cars in their hometown of Mountain View, California as well as expanding their test runs in the streets of downtown Austin, Texas. Although Google has been coordinating test drives in the area around their headquarters since about 2012, they are now broadening the number of cars that are participating in these test runs. As more and more of the Lexus RX450h SUV self-driving Google cars hit the streets, the controversy surrounding them continues to rise.
Self-driving cars are supposed to be the wave of the future, but there is still an unsettling fear that is associated with them. So far, there have been low accident reports regarding self-driving cars. The few accidents that have occurred have been mostly caused by other drivers, like the two cars that accidentally rear-ended self-driving cars last month. Less than 15 accidents have been reported since the self-driving cars have been unleashed in the streets. Google has promised to release monthly accident reports going forward into the future. In 2013 there were 30,719 fatal car accidents reported in the U.S. caused by human-driven cars, with this data not including non-fatal accidents and fender benders. When more self-driving cars hit the road, we will be able to make better comparisons about the safety of human drivers vs. self-driving cars.
One of the biggest selling points of these self-driving cars is that they will bring the hope of mobility back to those who no longer have it. This means people with vision problems and other physical limitations that keep them from driving may be able to get around again. If these self-driving cars actually make it into our everyday lives, will they cut down on accidental deaths, like the ones that are caused by human error, or accidents caused while driving under the influence? Currently the leading causes of automobile deaths are distracted drivers, drunk drivers and drivers who speed. Will the self-driving car bring an end to all of that?
Another attractive idea surrounding the self-driving car is that we all may be able to travel around while being distracted to our heart’s content. In the future we might be able to text, talk on the phone, eat breakfast, read emails and surf all of our beloved social media sites, all while on the way to work. But what about riding under the influence of alcohol? Will a driver still need to be able to take over if a self-driving car starts malfunctioning? Will there be self-driving cabs in the future that will be able to pick you up from the bar when you have had one too many?
Another question is how self-driving cars will affect traffic. In present day, the single passenger car is the main cause of traffic congestion. Will smaller, single person self-driving cars solve traffic issues, or compound the issue and make it worse?
Although Google cannot guarantee everyone’s absolute safety, they are hoping to at least ease fears that the American public might have when it comes to their self-driving cars. In a society that fears loss of control, there is no wonder the self-driving car can at times be a hard sell. For now, until we have further answers, we can just sit back and watch the progress that is being made in both California and Texas and wait to see what happens next.