Believe It or Not, It Won’t Be Long – Driverless Cars Are Coming Your Way! – Part 3

The first two blog posts in this three-part series provided real eye-opening details on where so many companies stand in their driverless car programs. Those details show where we are going in the next several years with respect to self-driving cars. ITS International, the magazine for advanced technology for traffic management and urban mobility, published an article called “Debunking the Driverless Delusion” in its September/October, 2016 issue.

This multi-page article goes on to indicate why driverless cars will likely have a detrimental effect on congestion and security while the road safety benefits can be achieved sooner and cheaper using Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). The article details multiple topics, including practicality, increased congestion, and security. The following paragraphs discuss some of those items that all of us, and the industry, need to consider:

  • If ADAS were required on new vehicles, they would likely prevent 70% to 80% of the crashes that are caused by human error.
  • In sharp contrast, the unique benefits of driverless cars can apply only to the person inside the vehicle. If driverless cars are permitted for sale to the mass market, the effect will be excessively detrimental to other road uses and society at large. Recently, Mercedes-Benz advised that their AI is being designed to protect the person or persons inside their self-driving cars.
  • For commuters, a self-driving car is akin to having a chauffeur and freed from driving they can work or socialize while commuting.  This, coupled with removing any concern or cost of parking, will encourage more people to commute by car and actually increase congestion.
  • As I have noted many times, longer travel time will not concern those working or socializing in driverless vehicles but will greatly inconvenience other road users and have a detrimental effect on air quality. However, if driverless cars are all electric, the air quality impact created by electric vehicles will likely be d’minimus.
  • Ex Zip Car CEO, Robin Chase, points out that in terms of congestion, much pivots on whether driverless cars are to be owned by individuals or by companies with fleets of vehicles. While reducing demand for city center parking up to 30% or more, traffic can be circulating to locate a parking space. But Colin indicates that unoccupied runs with double the number of journeys could create twice the congestion of driven vehicles.
  • The other reason why congestion could increase is that Level 5 driverless cars could be used to deliver forgotten items to school children and to departed visitors.
  • There are some that are predicting that, in cities like London, each car club vehicle may displace 10 to 20 privately owned vehicles and, therefore, driverless cars could boost car-sharing dramatically.
  • Without a third person, like a taxi driver, many people will be reluctant to share a small, enclosed and private space with strangers as is evident in America where under-used high occupancy lanes are being converted to high occupancy toll lanes (HOT). These allow driver-only vehicles to use the lane for a fee although it is commonly acknowledged that congestion problems cannot be solved with single occupant vehicles.
  • Driverless vehicles could increase safety and mobility for older drivers and those with visual impairment of physical disabilities but, indeed, will increase vehicle and single occupant vehicle usage.

The final issue that needs to be seriously addressed deals with security threats. While progress is being made to prevent mass hack attacks on driverless cars, the potential consequences of a hack on a driverless vehicle are far worse than those with ADAS where the driver controlling a vehicle will be instantly aware of the situation and retain influence over the steering and brakes. Far more worrying from the security viewpoint is that it will be simple to misuse driverless vehicles and the consequences could be far more devastating.

Examples of such behavior have been seen in and around Calais, France where migrants have been trying to stop cross-channel trucks to allow illegal immigrants to climb aboard. Even more frightening is the potential for terrorists to use an unoccupied Level 5 self-driving car to deliver a bomb to an intended target. However, this same threat also applies to delivery drones.

Obviously, the very real and very serious security issue will be increasingly more important as the driverless car process moves from the labs to the streets. Without question, the next five years is going to see many changes in how we move from place to place.

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