The Problems with Automated Vehicles, IMHO

I’ll start by saying that I’m genuinely excited about a future where I don’t have to concern myself with driving at all. To be able to walk to my car, get in, and know that I’ll end up at my destination within a reasonable time without any thought of weather is a truly bright future.

There are, however, some caveats. I absolutely do not plan on living somewhere that I’ll need a car by the time the technology is available at a price point I can afford. Long before then, I want to be back in Chicago, or New York, or London– places with actual robust public transit options.

I’ll paint a picture: for whatever reason (and I can’t think of one), your car exceeds the speed limit and you get pulled over. Assuming there is no requirement for someone in the drivers’ seat, you can’t be reasonably expected to be able to control the vehicle to pull over. You could be sleeping in the back seat, if that were legal. The car would have to know that it’s being stopped, and respond accordingly. That means an On-Star style vehicle control system in use by the police. We can assume if the local PD has access to it, criminals had it months ago. To be able to stop any car in its tracks is a wet dream for most petty thieves and kidnappers alike. Okay, let’s assume it’s the actual police and they have an actual reason to stop you. Who would get the ticket? I imagine you’d have to do some warranty-voiding modifications to the vehicle’s software to break laws, without you in the driver’s seat. Does hacking become illegal? Or is it treated as if you were in the driver’s seat, akin to adding aftermarket performance parts? Frankly, I would expect the former. That’s a dangerous precedent.
Who pays the ticket?

In order to navigate the streets and highways safely, the vehicle would need lots of sensors to know where other vehicles are on the road for any multitude of reasons. In order to differentiate one vehicle from the next, they would likely be sharing metadata as they communicate their location (even if only within 60 feet). That metadata would also be useful to authorities. Information like to whom the car is registered, where that person lives, etc. It isn’t hard to imagine one car being programmed to drive back and forth at the entrance of a subdivision or on the known commute of a target. When within range, the cars communicate, and the stalker now has a homing beacon on their target.

There are other things, like how the car would handle in an emergency. Until every single car on the road requires no driver intervention, we’ll have traffic accidents. And so far, there have been several accidents involving automated cars, and every time it was the fault of a human operator. What if they were avoidable, but the car didn’t respond appropriately? Does Nissan want to take the responsibility for that accident because their car didn’t evade a dangerous situation? For that reason, I don’t expect fully self-driving cars any time soon. The human element will cause problems, but can fix or avoid them as well.

My commute is through rural farm country, and the road has some twists and blind bends. Being out in the boondocks, the roads generally don’t get much attention in the winter, since most vehicles on them are light trucks or farm equipment that can handle the snow. My car doesn’t do so well. Last winter, I came upon a car flipped over in the ditch on a blind curve. The automated car wouldn’t know conditions in that spot were as icy as they were without reports from other cars, but this is a country road we’re talking about. At that hour of day, there might be one or two cars in a 60-minute span. Unless a driver before you reports information like that to a central location for dissemination, there would be no way to predict conditions.

And let’s say there is a central communications hub that allows road condition, traffic, construction, etc. information to be distributed to drivers across the country. There’s an issue with compatibility. Does Ford use the same protocols as Acura? Are Honda drivers totally blind to information being collected by Dodge vehicles? Rather, should we entrust a central body to handle all of that information, something like the National Weather Service? I’m all for that solution, except that I know security would be severely lacking. It wouldn’t be long before crooks broke in and stole the home location and owner name for every vehicle in the database, reigniting the stalker problem I mentioned before. And can you imagine the GOP/Libertarian/TeaParty/Conspiracy response to a government body having real-time GPS information on that many Americans? If that technology somehow made it past the regressives, the law would say something like ‘The National Transportation Service must adequately secure all information’. And that would last until someone broke in and stole all the data, and it would probably still not be fixed because the government doesn’t have the budget to focus on things like that.

If you made it this far, I’m genuinely proud of you. Actually, leave a comment or tweet at me @mec20mb9. I’m pretty sure nobody reads this crap anyway lol.

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