Recent advancements in transportation technology, such as ride-sharing apps and online trip planners, have improved people’s use of existing transportation systems. The introduction of autonomous vehicle technology promises to improve transportation options even more.
Autonomous vehicles are expected to increase accessibility for people who are incapable of driving themselves, reduce the cost of using taxis and delivery services, reduce demand for off-street parking, increase road safety and capacity, and increase demand for short-stay, on-street parking by eliminating the need for a human driver.
Although autonomous vehicle technology has improved rapidly in previous years, and the development may yield substantial economic, social, and environmental benefits, several barriers to its adoption remain, including the incompatible infrastructure, liability challenges, lack of consumer support and awareness, etc. This post will identify some of these barriers.
1. Incompatible infrastructure
Autonomous vehicle technology relies on road markings for positioning and steering. Ensuring the compatibility of road infrastructure is critical for the adoption of autonomous vehicles. V2X communication devices should be installed on traffic infrastructure to allow for the sharing of information about oncoming trains at railway crossings, traffic light signals, and upcoming roadblocks or delays. However, the compatibility of road infrastructure is currently non-existent in many countries. Besides, road markings on sealed surfaces are subject to wear and tear, while unsealed roads do not have them at all. Therefore, autonomous vehicles may be unable to operate in many countries due to poor quality and/or the absence of road markings.
2. Liability issues
In most countries, the occupants of the vehicle, specifically the driver, are held liable in the event of an accident. However, in the case of autonomous vehicles, it is unclear who is to blame for accidents and, as a result, who is liable for damages. Most vehicles that currently offer semi-autonomous modes state that the human driver is still in charge of the vehicle’s actions while in semi-autonomous mode. Some automakers have stated that once their vehicles reach full autonomy, they will accept responsibility for their actions. Other manufacturers believe that expecting humans to constantly monitor a vehicle for which they are not required for primary driving functions is unreasonable. As a result, it is critical to developing clear regulations that effectively manage liability.
3. Judgments in uncommon and unlikely scenarios
One of the biggest debates surrounding the deployment of autonomous vehicles is their ability to make decisions in unusual and unlikely situations. Consider this situation: an autonomous vehicle is following a truck with one passenger. Assume that the truck in front of you brakes suddenly and unexpectedly, preventing the autonomous vehicle from braking in time. Should the autonomous vehicle choose to collide with the truck, potentially injuring or killing the truck’s occupant? Or swerve to one side, putting the occupants of other vehicles in danger?
Vehicle manufacturers may have an incentive to design software that protects the occupants of their vehicle at the expense of other people’s safety, as people are less likely to buy or travel in a vehicle that puts the lives of others ahead of their own. The marketability of a vehicle that prioritizes the lives of others over the lives of its occupants is still up in the air. In this context, public participation and regulations are required to define the best course of action for autonomous vehicles.
4. Consumer support and awareness
Some drivers have blind faith in autonomous vehicles, not realizing that the technology may not interpret certain scenarios. Accidents are caused by a lack of understanding of the capabilities of autonomous vehicles. Most vehicles with auto-pilot mode currently require the driver to maintain constant supervision of the vehicle. This is enforced by requiring the driver to interact with the vehicle’s systems in some way, such as keeping their hands on the steering wheel or tracking their eyes to ensure they are watching the road. However, it is debatable whether it is reasonable to expect a human to continuously supervise a vehicle in autonomous mode for long periods.
Furthermore, releasing autonomous technology before it can safely navigate all reasonably anticipated scenarios may harm public perception, particularly if it results in injuries or deaths to passengers or pedestrians. Uber started testing self-driving technology in San Francisco, California, in 2016. Their vehicles were caught running red lights, going through stop signs, making unsafe turns, and failing to give pedestrians the right of way. Public support is likely to be severely harmed in these cases, delaying the overall transition to self-driving vehicles.