Anyone old enough to have been around for the 1993 movie “Demolition Man” may remember the self-driving cars that could switch from manual control to automatically driving themselves. For the last few years, Google has been working on a car that will drive itself using lasers and radar. The instruments, mounted on the roof of the car, can detect the changing corners of a road and the cars around it, allowing the car to adjust to changing speeds and decide when to turn and when to continue straight. While Google isn’t the only company working on self-driving cars, it did just recently overcome a critical hurdle that will allow self-driving cars on California roadways.
For me, the thought of a car trying to maneuver around all of the insane drivers and construction I typically encounter on a weekday morning is almost hard to believe. The decisions a driver must make to avoid careening off the road or into other cars are critical, though seemingly imperceptible at the time. One self-thinking car in a sea of impulsive humans sounds frightening to me, but the thought of a sea of self-thinking cars, all linked to one another, anticipating each other’s movements seems surprisingly safe.
Not only will self-driving cars cut down on accidents and fatalities as a result of impaired drivers caused by alcohol, drugs, or other things like texting, but fuel efficiency is bound to increase as well. Consider the amount of lost fuel and productivity when there is a car accident on a busy throughway for commuters. Just the other day I noticed a stalled car being protected by two police cars with a tow truck preparing to haul the car away. Behind this seemingly minor incident was a mile of backed-up traffic – people late for work, wasting fuel while idling, and no doubt becoming more and more annoyed by the situation. Self-driving cars will supposedly be able to deal with slowdowns like this in a much more efficient manner, saving fuel and time.
Increasing fuel efficiency by avoiding slowdowns isn’t the only way self-driving cars can conserve fuel, but just the fact that cars will be moving in a much more structured way means less gas pedal-pumping, and brake-checking. During World War 2, it was common for anti-driving propaganda to remind drivers to carpool, avoid unnecessary travel, and remember that the war-effort comes first. With growing concerns of an oil shortage, or just the fact that wars are being fought over oil, it is almost surprising we haven’t seen more ads like those from 70 years ago.
Finally, consider the fact that there are currently about 1 billion cars in the world. Think how much worse traffic will be if we raise that number to between 2 and 4 billion cars within the next 40 years, as is predicted to occur. Self-driving cars may not just be a cool gimmick, but rather a necessary advancement of society.