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Self-Driving Cars

As a child, I remember going to the World’s Fair in Vancouver (Expo 86). One of the many pavilions held promises of future technology. Among them, I vividly recall “video phones” where you could see the person you were talking to and self-driving cars.

Almost thirty years later, the phone tech has become a reality – we’ve had the ability to “facetime” or Skype with others for several years now – a tech that, in hindsight, was better in theory than in reality. It’s very awkward staring at the person with whom you’re chatting over the internet. Also, unlike a traditional phone call where you are free to go about your business, a video call holds you captive and prevents you from multitasking.

The driverless or self-driving car promise has not yet made it into the mainstream. True, many cars today offer such technologies as adaptive cruise control and blindspot monitoring systems or will brake on their own to avoid a rear-end collision; however, all of these cars still require a driver to be actively engaged in operating the vehicle.

Recently, companies such as Google, Tesla, and Mercedes have made strides toward releasing self-driving cars. Google is actively testing prototypes of its driverless car in San Francisco and hopes to release the vehicle for sale in 2020.

At present, driverless cars are allowed on the road in only 4 states and the District of Columbia (California, Florida, Nevada, and Michigan).

Questions abound regarding driverless cars. Whose fault will it be if one causes an accident — the driver or the manufacturer of the car? Will you be able to use one to get home from the bar if you are drunk?

We don’t know the answers to these questions yet and the law will have to quickly adapt once these vehicles become commonplace. Presently, most traffic laws presume that vehicles are being operated by a human.

Part of me is excited for this new technology. Theoretically, a freeway full of these cars would be much safer (the car wouldn’t take its eyes off the road to text etc.) and potentially faster (no slowing to look at nearby accidents or inadvertently slowing due to inattention or being lost).

Another part of me laments the coming technology. I enjoy driving and the business of operating a vehicle. Just like manual transmissions are becoming more and more difficult to find in new cars, so too might it become difficult to find a car I can operate on my own in the future.

It’s also possible that, like the “video phone” I was excited for in 1986, the reality of the driverless car will be horrible and not end up being widely adopted by the public.

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