The night’s almost over. It’s been a good Saturday full of fun and memories. But tomorrow is upon you, and it’s time to head home. You and your friends are finally getting tired after a great night. You and your group stand outside in the darkness talking amongst yourselves, while you use you phone to summon your brand new self driving car. You barely wait a minute, then you notice Its LED headlights shining in the distance. The silent car approaches the sidewalk slowly with an electronic greeting on the outside, “Hi there, It’s great to see you again”. The car creeps to a stop, its doors open welcomingly, presenting its comfortable interior. All the seats face each other, ambient lighting sets the mood, and there isn’t a steering wheel in sight. All your friends hop into your car in total awe. “This is amazing!” one of your friends states, the rest of them agree. You set the destinations, the doors automatically close, and the car sets off. You continue to chat with your friends for the next couple of minutes until you start to doze off. You watch the smiles on your friends faces as your eyes close.
You begin to wake up from your nap, eyes slowly opening. Drowsily, you look around to find your friend’s motionless. Maybe they fell asleep too? You move towards them to wake them up, that’s when you notice that something is terribly wrong. The windows are smashed, all the airbags are deployed, and your body is in extreme pain. You shake and rattle your friends, begging for them to wake up, but none of them do. You stumble out of your totaled autonomous car to find out what happened. It crashed with another vehicle, another autonomous vehicle. How could this have happened? Who was the cause of this? Why? The truth is that nobody caused the accident, because nobody was driving. Maybe if you drove the car instead, this wouldn’t have happened? But you couldn’t have, this car wasn’t set up to be driven. It could be the manufacturers fault, but you purchased the car, and you knew the risks when you invited your friends to ride in it with you. Who truly takes the fault?
You may think that this situation is so far in the future that it will never be an issue in your everyday life. When in actuality, fully autonomous vehicles are already roaming our streets. The technology for autonomous vehicles was thought to be decades away, until our vehicles looked like spacecraft. But that tech is here now, and has become rapidly popular due to the success of Tesla Motor Co. and its founder Elon Musk pushing technology to the point of science fiction becoming reality. This idea of easy mobility is what consumers want, and other automotive manufacturers have taken notice. Companies such as Ford Motor Co. have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development of autonomous vehicles, and they plan to implement that tech into their line of products as soon as 2021(Ford Mediacenter). But we don’t have until 2021 to prepare ourselves for self driving cars. Tesla, has recently released the Tesla Model 3 electric car which features self driving tech for around 45 thousand dollars, making this technology easily available to middle class families and a large chunk of the american population (Halvorson). Elon Musk is mass producing this vehicle today. 2021 is no longer enough time for us, as a nation and as consumers, to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles. We need to set up a strategy today, to prevent as many injuries or deaths as possible, avoid as much economic downfall as possible, and make the streets safe for drivers and riders. But to do this consumer, manufacturer, and government all need to work together to allow for this amazing technology to thrive in our nation.
You may be asking, “if self driving cars are such an issue, then why are we bothering with implementing them into our lives anyways?”. Well there are many advantages over normal driving that autonomous cars offer. Since the car will be driving itself, you will be free to do as you please. You could use your phone the whole trip without worrying about getting a ticket. You could take a nap in the car to catch up on some sleep. You could also try to catch up on some work, that needs to be done today. All of the things that would be considered a distraction while driving, you would now be able to do without any repercussions or endangerment of lives. This leads into the greatest advantage of autonomous vehicles, safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that “[h]uman error is the critical reason for 93% of crashes”(NHTSA). So by eliminating the human factor, injury and death byautomobile accidents should drastically decrease. Due to their technology, which allows them to make calculations quicker than any human possibly could, autonomous vehicles are capable of saving our lives. Something that has been proven by Tesla enthusiast Joshua Brown and his retellings and video proof of an incident where he was driving his semi-autonomous Tesla(Brown). But sadly, they have also proven that they could just as easily end lives.
Joshua Brown was a loyal Tesla enthusiast. During his lifetime, he posted countless videos of him and his beloved Tesla Model S. He prominently featured the cars self driving ability, and it even saved his life when he couldn’t react in time. But Self driving technology would eventually lead to his death. While in autopilot, Brown’s tesla failed to see a big rig crossing an intersection and went under the trailer, tearing off the greenhouse of the car, making Brown the first casualty of autonomous driving (Orlove). The NTSB found that Tesla was not to blame for the incident, but it is obvious that this technology allowed Brown to ignore the road and end up in a fatal accident(Felton). So how can we avoid this from ever happening again?
We need a solution and fast, so Joshua Brown will be the only human death at the hands of autonomous vehicles. One possible solution would be to simply not allow self driving cars in the US. This is not a viable option however. The autonomous vehicles business is going to be massive, and revolutionary for transportation. Based off of Tesla Motor Co. sales (Bhuiyan) and the distracted way that most people drive, the public would rather not drive at all if possible. If the United states decides to not lead the way in innovation in this technology, then massive amounts of possible income would not come into the United States and instead go to other nations. Companies would go else were to sell their tech and manufacture cars, thus hurting the economy by destroying jobs and ignoring Billions in income via taxes.
One solution that seems promising would be to completely rework the nation’s transportation system. All roads would be repaved, street signs would be reworked to aid autonomous vehicles, highways would charge electric vehicles when on them, and public transport would be more readily available. The main issue with this idea is “money”. The United States is currently trillions of dollars in debt, and a massive project like this would send us into even more debt. This nation would simply not be able to do this, especially with each state having their own local governments and budgets. Further implementation of public transport could also be a waste, due to most americans enjoying the leisure and ease of personal transportation.
So what would work? For self driving cars to be able to truly and easily work, the government, consumer, and manufacturers would all have to make compromises while working together. The consumer would have to give up some of their rights when purchasing a self driving car, acknowledging that things could go wrong when riding in one of these autonomous vehicles. Tesla’s already currently do this, informing the driver that autonomous mode is still in a beta state,and shouldn’t be relied upon. But in today’s society, most people thoughtlessly agree to whatever contract that they see in order to get what they want. The manufacturers on the other hand would have to strive to make their cars as safe as possible, competing with other manufacturers to make the best vehicles and making reliable cars to avoid lawsuits and to make the most amount of profit. That’s how our capitalist society works, the best will thrive while the worst shall disappear. And the government would be the middleman, keeping both parties safe. The government would have to likely reinforce the NHTSA as well as the NTSB with more funding so they can produce the best possible investigations that they can when and if an accident does occur, in order to find out who was truly at fault. And the government would be able to protect the people from poorly built cars, and protect the manufacturers form tons of lawsuits. With the Department of Transportation now embracing self driving tech and noting that it will be supervising and assisting in the move to autonomous vehicles(Smith), we can feel more at ease knowing that the government is going to have the people’s back and regulate autonomous cars.
We as a nation have to all come to an agreement to allow for self driving cars to roll on our streets. Autonomous driving can, and will, save thousands of lives when fully implemented, we just have to make sure that they are implemented in the best possible way. The more we pay attention to this issue, the better off we will all be. Afterall, it’s our lives that are at stake here. With help from the government, our economy, jobs, and lives will be safe. It’s our duty as citizens to make sure we are all responsible and safe as possible, for the betterment of our lives and the advancement of technology.
Bhuiyan, Johana. “Tesla Is Now Worth More than Ford after Delivering a Record Number of Cars for the Quarter.” Recode, Vox Media, 3 Apr. 2017, www.recode.net/2017/4/3/15160462/tesla-ford-deliveries-record-sales.
Brown, Joshua, director. Autopilot Saves Model S. YouTube/ Autopilot Saves Model S, Joshua Btown, 5 Apr. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I5rraWJq6E.
Felton, Ryan. “Limits Of Tesla’s Autopilot And Driver Error Cited In Fatal Model S Crash.”Jalopnik, Jalopnik.com, 12 Sept. 2017, jalopnik.com/limits-of-teslas-autopilot-and-driver-error-cited-in-fa-1803806982.
“Ford Targets Fully Autonomous Vehicle for Ride Sharing in 2021; Invests in New Tech Companies, Doubles Silicon Valley Team .” Ford Targets Fully Autonomous Vehicle for Ride Sharing in 2021; Invests in New Tech Companies, Doubles Silicon Valley Team | Ford Media Center, Ford Motor Co. Mediacenter, 16 Aug. 2016, media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2016/08/16/ford-targets-fully-autonomous-vehicle-for-ride-sharing-in-2021.html.
Halvorson, Bengt. “2018 Tesla Model 3: Everything We Know .” Car and Driver, Hearst Communications Inc., Aug. 2017, www.caranddriver.com/features/2018-tesla-model-3-everything-we-know-feature.
“National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.” Nhtsa.com, Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration, July 2008, crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/811059.
Orlove, Raphael. “The First Fatal Crash In A Self-Driving Car Has Happened; NHTSA Investigating Tesla.” Jalopnik, Jalopnik.com, 30 June 2016, jalopnik.com/first-fatal-tesla-autopilot-crash-sparks-nhtsa-investig-1782916450.
Smith, Brian Walker. “US Department of Transportation’s Automated Driving Guidance.”Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School, 24 Oct. 1970, cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2016/09/us-department-transportations-automated-driving-guidance.