Imagine a world where our highways and streets are full of driverless cars and trucks, moving in perfect sync with each other! Though it may seem like a distant vision, the widespread adoption of driverless vehicles will be the advent of “the next automotive revolution” that will solve several transportation problems.
Road traffic accidents caused by human error will be a thing of the past. The daily commute to work will be stress-free and safe. People will get into their cars, enjoy coffee, read the news, interact with other passengers, and even catch up on some sleep! They will arrive at the destination relaxed and refreshed. They will leave the car to find an available parking space autonomously.
Optimistically, autonomous vehicles will be commercially available by 2030 and will be sufficiently reliable and affordable to the most, providing huge savings and benefits.
However, years of testing and regulatory approval are required before they are commercially available in most jurisdictions. There is considerable uncertainty concerning the development, costs, travel impacts, and complications due to frequent interactions with other, often-unpredictable pedestrians, cyclists, animals, and vehicles.
Therefore, considerable progress is necessary before autonomous vehicles can operate reliably in mixed urban traffic, heavy rain and snow, unpaved and unmapped roads, and where wireless access is unreliable.
This post will discuss the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles.
Pros of autonomous vehicles
- Improved safety: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94% of road accidents are caused by human errors. Advocates for driverless vehicles use statistics to argue that autonomous systems make better and faster decisions than humans.
- Visibility and adaptability: Self-driving vehicles constantly monitor and adapt to varying traffic and weather conditions and avoid obstacles on the road, doing all with more diligence, speed, and safety than human drivers.
- Fast traffic flow: Traffic can flow faster, and congestion can be reduced with autonomous driving. Using vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous systems can set high speeds and intelligently avoid busy routes.
- Higher efficiency: With fuel efficiency achieved by optimized driving and convoying, owners of autonomous vehicles can reduce carbon footprint and motoring costs by approximately 15%. This also increases road capacity, and more efficient vehicle traffic may relieve congestion and roadway costs.
- 24/7 availability: Autonomous vehicles remove the time limitations placed on freight trucks. Compared with today’s driving, they will be able to travel 24/7 without requiring driver rest time and achieve overall cost reductions in the region of 40% per kilometer.
- Lower environmental impact: With fewer cars and more efficient fuel consumption, autonomous systems minimize environmental impact in lower emissions and put less stress on the road network.
- Reduced driver stress, improved productivity, and mobility: In an autonomous vehicle, the driver becomes a passenger. He or she doesn’t have to watch the road ahead but can rest and enjoy other activities. This also makes self-driving vehicles a beautiful form of transportation for the elderly, underage, people with physical disabilities, and even the intoxicated.
- Reduced parking costs: Parking a car used to be stressful and time-consuming. But the self-driving vehicle can find a parking space and, later, return to a specified pickup point all on its own! This reduces the demand for parking at destinations.
- Reduced paid driver costs: Reduces costs for taxi services and commercial transport drivers. Cheaper taxi services will provide convenient mobility for non-drivers door-to-door or as a feeder to train stations or bus stops. This will be particularly effective in suburban and rural areas where conventional transit is inefficient.
- Better vehicle sharing: Autonomous vehicles will facilitate carsharing and ridesharing, reducing total vehicle ownership and travel and associated costs.
- Public transit: Allows micro-transit with frequent and demand-response services. Particularly suitable for longer-distance personal trips. May increase longer-distance travel.
Cons of autonomous vehicles
- Hardware and software failures: All complex electronic systems often fail due to faulty sensors, distorted signals, and software errors. Self-driving vehicles, too, will undoubtedly have failures that can contribute to crashes.
- Malicious hacking: Self-driving technologies are venerable and can be manipulated by people for amusement or crime.
- Increased risk-taking: When travelers feel safer, most of them tend to take additional risks. For instance, passengers may reduce seatbelt use in an autonomous vehicle, and road users may be less cautious.
- Platooning risks: Platooning in which vehicles operating close together at high speeds on dedicated lanes introduces new risks, such as increased crashes severity.
- Increased total vehicle travel: Improving convenience and comfort in autonomous vehicles may increase total vehicle travel and crash exposure.
- Reduced investment in conventional safety strategies: The prospect of autonomous vehicles could reduce future efforts to improve driver safety.
- Higher vehicle repair costs: Sensors and control systems are likely to significantly increase collision repair costs.
- Increased infrastructure costs: Autonomous vehicles require higher roadway design and maintenance standards.
- Reduced security and privacy: Self-driving vehicles are vulnerable to information abuse (hacking), and features such as location tracking and data sharing may reduce privacy.
- Increased traffic problems: Increased vehicle travel may increase congestion, pollution, and sprawl-related costs.
- Social equity concerns: May reduce affordable mobility options, including walking, bicycling, and transit services.
- Reduced employment: Jobs for drivers may decline.