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Dan Beres

Dan Beres Managing Partner

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How Will Robots Affect Driver Safety?

Several manufacturers, including Tesla, have rolled out some “innovative” features that include self-driving technology. At first glance, consumers like this type of vehicle technology because it typically means that these vehicles are fuel-efficient, use advanced technologically and are, frankly, cool. However, there are hazards involved with this advanced technology and, sadly, plenty of accidents (and deaths) are reportedly associated — some caused by human error, and some by a person’s misunderstanding of the technology.

According to an article in Automotive News, some automakers and ride-sharing companies want to go even further. Not only do they want to create self-driving vehicles, but also plan to remove the very controls that allow a human to intervene when necessary – namely steering wheels and brake pedals! 

While self-driving cars are still in their infancy, auto manufacturers are in a race to be the first to market. Several states have limitations and regulations regarding how and if these vehicles can be tested. Most of them still have the infrastructure to allow drivers to take over if needed. The argument state and local governments have put before NHTSA is that the federal government should revise current regulations to ensure vehicles also allow human interaction. Many people want a more relaxing commute and are intrigued by this new technology. However, in removing the steering wheel and brake pedals, consumers are entirely at the mercy of a computer, with no chance to manually intervene. All you can do is watch and (like in the old days of emergencies) duck and cover.

Some of this early technology – even when the driver can interact and take over – is flawed. There are sure to be recalls and technology issues that create dangerous situations. Does any consumer want to put their lives in the hands of a computer? Some already do on a smaller scale. For example, while the world is telling drivers not to text or look at their phones while driving, Tesla has huge interactive screens in some vehicles that can be just as distracting!

By taking away the ABILITY for a person to control a vehicle, manufacturers force consumers to rely on self-driving vehicles to operate safely amongst conventional human-controlled cars. Also, you must admit, they are not always operated by the most safety-conscious drivers!

Yes, technology is cool. However, while this future of vehicle technology may look and sound desirable, there are many hidden safety issues inherent to these vehicles that we should consider. As a society, it may be a good idea to try not to find self-driving technologies quite so alluring – similar to how a mosquito is attracted to a bug-zapper. The warm glow might not be so comforting, after all. The proper balance is to evaluate what technology can do for us while looking at how fail-safe it is. Can we really endure another Takata disaster?

If we fail to proceed cautiously with vehicle safety at the forefront, we could quickly end up with road rage on a robotic level. With vehicles doing their own programmed, pre-determined tasks while each manufacturers’ vehicle has different priorities.

Perhaps not the nirvana of a pleasant commute, but one of helpless commuters staring out their vehicle’s windows helplessly wondering what to do. And that is a commute that is probably not as pleasant as expected. 

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