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Advantages and Disadvantages of Driverless Cars

Updated on November 22, 2016
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Since graduating from university, Paul has worked as a librarian, bookseller, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

A Toyota Prius that has been modified by Google to operate as a driverless car.  This type of advanced robotic vehicle functions by sensing its environment and constantly updating its map.  It is intended to operate without human input.
A Toyota Prius that has been modified by Google to operate as a driverless car. This type of advanced robotic vehicle functions by sensing its environment and constantly updating its map. It is intended to operate without human input. | Source

Also sometimes called autonomous cars, robotic cars, and self-driving cars, truly driverless cars were essentially the stuff of science-fiction books and movies until relatively recently (although there were some notable early attempts: see a brief history later in this article).

Definitions vary, but autonomous cars are typically defined as versions of our current vehicles that are capable of taking over from the driver under certain circumstances, whereas driverless cars are the next stage on in development and usually have no steering wheel or pedals.

The involvement of Google in developing the necessary software for the operation of these vehicles has increased public interest in the technology and practicality issues, as well as increasing investment.

Below, I give the advantages and disadvantages of driverless cars, presented in the form of a pros and cons list.

How Do Driverless Cars Work?

Driverless cars sense their surroundings using technology such as lidar, radar, GPS, and computer vision.

The sensory information is then processed to navigate appropriate pathways for the vehicle to take, avoiding any obstacles and also obeying the road signs.

The car uses a digital map, which can be constantly updated according to sensory input. This allows the vehicle to adapt to changing situations, as well as travel through previously unknown territories.

Junior, photographed in October 2009.  The vehicle is a self-driving Volkswagen Passat, developed at Stanford University.  On the roof are spinning LIDAR and cameras to gather the necessary environmental information.
Junior, photographed in October 2009. The vehicle is a self-driving Volkswagen Passat, developed at Stanford University. On the roof are spinning LIDAR and cameras to gather the necessary environmental information. | Source

Classifying Automated Vehicles

A formal classification system for automated cars has been proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Level 0: Driver has complete control of vehicle at all times.

Level 1: Some vehicle controls are automated, e.g. automatic braking.

Level 2: Two or more controls can be automated at the same time, e.g. cruise control and lane keeping.

Level 3: The driver can cede control in certain circumstances.

Level 4: Driver not expected to play any part in the driving process at all.

Advantages of Driverless Cars

  • Without the need for a driver, cars could become mini-leisure rooms. There would be more space and no need for everyone to face forwards. Entertainment technology, such as video screens, could be used to lighten long journeys without the concern of distracting the driver.
  • Over 80% of car crashes in the USA are caused by driver error. There would be no bad drivers and less mistakes on the roads, if all vehicles became driverless. Drunk and drugged drivers would also be a thing of the past.
  • Travelers would be able to journey overnight and sleep for the duration.
  • Traffic could be coordinated more easily in urban areas to prevent long tailbacks at busy times. Commute times could be reduced drastically.
  • Reduced or non-existent fatigue from driving, plus arguments over directions and navigation would be a thing of the past.
  • Sensory technology could potentially perceive the environment better than human senses, seeing farther ahead, better in poor visibility, detecting smaller and more subtle obstacles, more reasons for less traffic accidents.
  • Speed limits could be increased to reflect the safer driving, shortening journey times.
  • Parking the vehicle and difficult maneuvering would be less stressful and require no special skills. The car could even just drop you off and then go and park itself.
  • People who historically have difficulties with driving, such as disabled people and older citizens, as well as the very young, would be able to experience the freedom of car travel. There would be no need for drivers' licenses or driving tests.
  • Autonomous vehicles could bring about a massive reduction in insurance premiums for car owners.
  • Efficient travel also means fuel savings, cutting costs.
  • Reduced need for safety gaps means that road capacities for vehicles would be significantly increased.
  • Passengers should experience a smoother riding experience.
  • Self-aware cars would lead to a reduction in car theft.

Brief History of Self-Driving Vehicles

The origins of automated cars go back to the 1920s. The technology significantly advanced in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the 1980s with the introduction of computers that truly autonomous vehicles began to become a possibility. Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, the University of Parma, Oxford University and Google have all developed prototype vehicles since then.

A 1960 Citroen DS19 that has been modified to be automatically controlled, photographed at the Science Museum, London.  The origins of autonomous vehicles go back to the 1920s.  There were significant leaps in associated technology in the 1950s.
A 1960 Citroen DS19 that has been modified to be automatically controlled, photographed at the Science Museum, London. The origins of autonomous vehicles go back to the 1920s. There were significant leaps in associated technology in the 1950s. | Source

Disadvantages of Driverless Cars

  • Driverless cars would likely be out of the price range of most ordinary people when generally introduced, likely costing over $100,000.
  • Truck drivers and taxi drivers will lose their jobs, as autonomous vehicles take over.
  • A computer malfunction, even just a minor glitch, could cause worse crashes than anything that human error might bring about.
  • If the car crashes, without a driver, who's fault is it: Google/the software designer, or the owner of the vehicle?
  • The cars would rely on the collection of location and user information, creating major privacy concerns.
  • Hackers getting into the vehicle's software and controlling or affecting its operation would be a major security worry.
  • There are problems currently with autonomous vehicles operating in certain types of weather. Heavy rain interferes with roof-mounted laser sensors, and snow can interfere with its cameras.
  • Reading human road signs is challenging for a robot.
  • As drivers become more and more used to not driving, their proficiency and experience will diminish. Should they then need to drive under certain circumstances, there may be problems.
  • The road system and infrastructure would likely need major upgrades for driverless vehicles to operate on them. Traffic and street lights, for instance, would likely all need altering.
  • Self-driving cars would be great news for terrorists, as they could be loaded with explosives and used as moving bombs.
  • Ethical problems could arise which a machine might struggle to deal with. Faced with a choice between plowing into a group of schoolchildren or going off a bridge and killing all its passengers, what does the vehicle do? Should the vehicle always swerve to avoid animals in the road or always prioritize the safety and comfort of passengers?
  • Human behavior such as hand signals are difficult for a computer to understand.
  • How would the police interact with driverless vehicles, especially in the case of accidents or crimes?

Where are Driverless Cars Legal in The USA?

In the USA, as of 2013, four states have allowed the testing of autonomous vehicles on their roads, they are:

Florida

California

Michigan

Nevada

In 2015, two more states are set to join the four above:

Washington D.C.

Virginia

© 2015 Paul Goodman

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 24 months ago from Oklahoma

      It is one thing to get in a train on a rail with no driver, but I just can't see getting into a car that drives itself. Just a control freak I guess.

      Interesting hub.

    • newbizmau profile image

      Guided Abundance 23 months ago from Mobile, AL

      Very cool. I remember these boy scout magazines that I used to get way back in elementary school. I saved this particular one because it had a futuristic car on the cover that displayed people facing each other playing chess. It was suppose to be the car of the future and it was projected that we would have these cars in the YEAR 2000. I thought wow back in the 80s the year 2000 is going to be so awesome. Well the year 2000 came and went and I'm still driving. What happened?

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 15 months ago from Long Island, NY

      You covered this issue with driverless cars very thoroughly. Your lists of advantages and disadvantages provided a lot of issues to consider. And it is clear that this is not going to,happen any time soon. The entire infrastructure of roads will need to be changed, as you had mentioned.

      I can't imagine how autonomous vehicles will be able to maneuver through complicated areas with confusing signage. I would think that there has to be a new technology where roadsigns transmit information via radio signals, or maybe Wi-Fi. And this will then interface with autonomous vehicles.

      In any case, this technology is something I expect to happen in the next decade. Maybe not with completely self driving vehicles, but with vehicles that help existing drivers when necessary.

    • profile image

      emily 8 months ago

      ok i think i will miss normal cars 50 years in the future

    • profile image

      DaCarAddict 7 months ago

      Very true. This article covers a lot of ground for the driverless cars debate; I personally don't trust these cars in the future as who knows what AI technology can understand and preform in emergencies.

    • profile image

      Jonathan 7 months ago

      Well, maybe our great-grandparents missed riding horse driven carraiges

    • profile image

      punji 6 months ago

      cars can be driven all over especially in the U.K

    • profile image

      Sky 4 months ago

      This was pretty helpful considering that I am writing an essay/speech of going for driverless cars. So I basically tried to only understand the whole "advantages" point, but now I feel like I want to go against because of some of the disadvantages. Great job on this, I actually found things that weren't in ALL the other sites I've looked at.

    • profile image

      Quick 4 months ago

      Very good website

    • profile image

      y347 2 months ago

      I think this car will be a good car imagine if you need to read something your boss told you to read and your late on your way you will be reading the book.

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