It looks like the Jetsons’ era might finally be on its way. Cars do not fly yet, but they can drive themselves. Google and several car manufacturers are preparing to offer this new technology to consumers by 2018. There are several potential benefits, especially for disabled drivers. There are, however, unanswered questions about safety and legal responsibility.
Google’s car is capable of analyzing a parking space and deciding if it can fit and staying a safe distance from other cars on the highway. It can also brake to avoid a car accident, at least at city speeds.
Auto manufacturers including General Motors, Toyota and BMW, are currently developing driverless automobiles. Google is considered the leader of the pack. It reports that its driverless cars have traveled over 300,000 miles so far, with 50,000 of those free from human intervention.
There are some drawbacks to driverless cars. They cannot obey traffic signs or recognize pedestrians. They have trouble staying within their lanes on the highway in bad weather.
Engineers believe that the cars will eventually be safer than human operated cars. The cars will open new avenues for people who cannot drive due to handicap. Other potential benefits will be more options for ride sharing and environmentally friendly commuting.
There are legal concerns that will need to be addressed before driverless cars rule the road. The main issue will be legal responsibility. If there is an accident, who will be liable? If a police officer stops a driverless car, who should get the ticket?
The legal structure will need to change to accommodate driverless vehicles. The litigation process will likely move from individuals to companies and corporations as vehicles operate independently.
Source: PBS Newshour Extra, “Are We Ready For Driverless Cars?,” Ibrahim Balkhy, May 13, 2013