#140 The Truth About Self-Driving Cars

It's time to put the brakes on the hype about self-driving cars. Despite industry and media forecasts, it may be more than a decade before many fully autonomous vehicles are on the road. Lawsuits and patent disputes are among the many hurdles that face auto manufacturers and tech firms.

But this doesn't mean that technology is being thrown into reverse gear. Semi-autonomous cars with vehicle assist and other features are much safer than earlier generations of automobiles. Self-driving delivery trucks and vans are no longer a fantasy.

"Fix It" guest Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver magazine is deeply skeptical about the widely-touted changes proclaimed by major manufacturers. "It's a scary concept anyway you look at it," he tells us. "The autonomous car is a very inelegant, very complex and a very fraught solution to the problem of texting while driving... and of information coming into the car when people should be driving."

For Google, Apple, Microsoft and other big data companies, autonomous cars are a big opportunity. Instead of keeping their eyes on the road, motorists would use their driving time to consume more digital media. 

But Eddie says a mix of self-driving and traditional vehicles on the road would create danger. "People will deal with or accept flawed humans crashing into each other. I don't think people will accept supposedly fail-safe machines crashing into each other."

Solutions 

  • Understand the risks of mixing traditional cars with self-driving vehicles on the same roadway.
  • Promote the use of semi-autonomous background technology to make driving safer. Examples: cruise control, vehicle stability, lane departure warning systems.
  • Adopt autonomous vehicles in "closed" environments such as industrial sites.
  • Encourage car-sharing and other initiatives to reduce commute times.  
  • Resist the temptation to encourage drivers to surrender control of their time behind-the-wheel.