This paper was prepared for UNIV 112 taught by Professor Corner
Driverless cars are a relatively new phenomenon, coming into the limelight in 2013 with the Ford Fusion driverless car that they had been testing since 2003. Many possible benefits have been discussed since that would change the way the world works. However due to a lack of total understanding and manufacturers inability to agree on the cars “moral compass” and decision making process when faced with an emergency situation, driverless cars cannot be allowed on the road until these problems are resolved and it is in every person’s best interest and safety for them not to be produced commercially until that time.
The term “driverless car”, which, according to Techopedia, refers to an autonomous or self-driving vehicle that can guide itself without human conduction (https://www.techopedia.com/definition/30056/autonomous-car). Car manufacturers including Ford, Mercedes, GM, BMW, Nissan, Honda and Audi have forged partnerships with technologically advanced companies including Microsoft, Apple and Google in order to win the race to the first fully capable driverless car to be available for purchase to the public; as said by Heather Kelley for CNN (2014), as of January of 2014 the only states where it is legal to test drive an autonomous car are California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida (para. 2). While these companies have successfully invented cars that can be called driverless technically, but on the road in the real world these manufacturers are facing tough ethical decisions that are hindering their ability to commercialize their newly realized vehicles. When faced with an unavoidable emergency situation these cars need to be programmed to respond in a specific way and it is proving difficult to come to a decision that pleases all people, companies and laws alike.
For instance, a common example, as stated by Doug Newcomb (2014), is titled the “Tunnel Problem”. “An autonomous car on a single-lane mountain road is about to enter a tunnel when a child crossing just inside the entrance trips and falls. Does the car continue straight and run over the child, or does it swerve and hit either side of the tunnel entrance (p. 2)?” This is the question that manufacturers are unable to come to a decision over this. Newcomb (2014) had volunteers fill out a survey that asked if they would swerve into the tunnel entrance or run over the child and 64% of participants said that they would run over the child instead of hitting the tunnel entrance (p. 3). In this way a human driver would make a decision and be held responsible for their decision, but if a car is making the decision, who is responsible for any injury or death that comes from an instance such as this? Jared Newman (2014) asserts that because there is no answer to this question yet, technology needs more advancement in order for these autonomous cars to be street legal and not just practical in theory (para. 25).
Technology today may be highly advanced, however, as stated in The Moral Challenges of Driverless Cars (2015), the sensors that function within these self-driving cars in order to guide them and help them to detect their surroundings can simply detect the difference between a cyclist and a pedestrian at this point in their creation (Volume 58, p. 19). This faulty system can be seen in the unmanned aerial vehicles that has come into common use within militaries today, commonly known as drones. While there were benefits to drones, mainly a decreasing in the loss of military personnel lives, it has become evident that the sensors used in these weapons are not able to differentiate between different forms such as adults and children, causing harm unintentionally to innocent people. In the same way, autonomous cars’ sensors are unable to identify strictly between elderly and young, the number of people in an oncoming car, and between bicyclists and pedestrians which poses a threat to those outside of the car and so out of control of what will happen.
In the case of an emergency like stated before, these cars do not have a mandated response. Not only is this response up in the air but also, when a decision is made, how it will interact with the laws of the road. These cars cannot be road worthy until it is decided who is held responsible for any and all consequences caused by the decision that the vehicle makes. Once a decision is made about the appropriate reaction for a car to have, there are many options for who should be held responsible; the car manufacturers for not making the right decision, the technology masterminds who coded the decision making process, or the car passenger/driver for deciding to buy the car knowing what the cars’ response would be to an emergency.
Wil Rockall (2015) has discussed that not only is it up to manufacturers to ensure safety in an emergency and even just in general driving experiences, but because these automobiles would be working solely from technology, the possibilities of hacking cannot be ignored (Volume 10, p. 27). Hacking has become a large part of online culture that can have horrible consequences and this would be no different. Regardless what is decided as a cars reaction, a hacker can change and tamper with a cars navigation, sensors, steering capabilities and ultimately its ability to safely function. There must be a solution found prior to these cars being driven and potentially being targeted and altered in a way to harm drivers.
The technology needed to make these cars a possibility in the coming years grows every day, however it is questionable whether the world and the way it functions is ready for these cars to be produced yet, or even in 10 years. When these cars become a reality and are highly utilized, Thomas Frey (2012) predicts that they will change the way mail is delivered, insurance is handled, parking is dealt with, and infrastructure is designed (Volume 75, p. 38). These are colossal changes that cannot happen overnight. That manufacturers cannot create a standard moral compass is of course very important to these cars’ ability to be commercialized, however even if a compromise is determined and production can begin, car companies will have to wait for everyday dealings to be altered, potentially taking years to successfully make the switch all around the world where these cars will be driven.
Not only will the world need to shift for this new age of driving, but many careers will be impacted, mostly in a negative way. Any profession that supplies goods or services to another place will become unnecessary. Why pay a truck, taxi, or limo driver when a driverless car can function just the same, if not more safely and leave less up to putting trust in a human as opposed to a programmed piece of technology. Ambulance operators, first responders and EMT’s will no longer be necessary. Frey (2012) even proposes that traffic police will be affected by this change. Because autonomous cars will stick to the speed limit dictated for that road, there will be no need for cops to be sent out and paid to make sure no one is exceeding the predetermined speed and safety regulation (Volume 75, p. 39). Many jobs will be inadvertently impacted in small ways, but the shift of technologies could likely impact the professions available in our world.
When thinking of driverless cars as the future of automobiles, however, there are many immediate positives that come to mind. Road safety does not always involve just the person in control of a vehicle but all those who interact with them on the road. According to the Global Driver Risk Management website (http://www.alertdriving.com/home/fleet-alert-magazine/international/human-error-accounts-90-road-accidents), 1.2 million people die each year and 90% of these car accidents are caused by bad driving behavior including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, road rage, texting while driving and loud music distractions. One positive outcome to autonomous cars would be their inability to be affected by the state a passenger is in. The car would function and perform just as well whether someone is drunk or sober which would lead to less deaths caused by car crashes and less motor vehicle deaths overall.
Not only would these cars allow for the safe transportation of people under the influence but also the elderly and infirm and those younger than 16. In many cases these age groups are completely dependent upon another person to drive them anyplace that they need to go. Driverless cars have the potential to take away that dependency allowing for a freer lifestyle for many people. Parents could possibly not have to worry about driving the child anywhere, just simply program the car to take them there and come back allowing for more time to get things done on their part. This possibility is off the table for at least the next 7 years based on how technology is advancing in this field but it is a possibility for the future.
For those that already have the ability to drive with a license, the headache of traffic and the time it takes to get from point a to point b will be highly diminished. The sensors, as noted by Frey (2012), on these cars will allow for less distance to be necessary between cars (from 2 car lengths to one foot of space between bumpers) (Volume 75, p. 39). With traffic more compressed and the possibility of crashes lessened, the time it would take to get from one place to another will be less.
The time that a passenger is in the car can also be used more freely, not designated to drive and be constantly observant and vigilant. Thomas Frey looking towards the future states that hands free technology that can be used while driving such as Bluetooth will become obsolete and the make of cars will shift to provide maximum comfort and entertainment of any and all sorts to the now passenger. A person can now read, watch a movie, do homework, get a massage and countless other things when they are not relegated to driver (39). It is, in many opinions, a waste of energy to do nothing but drive. Assuming a person lives to the average age of 72.2 and drives approximately 50 miles a day, they will spent seven percent of their life behind the wheel of a car. Driverless cars will take away that amount of so called wasted time and allow for a more productive use of time.
It is estimated that when these cars become commercially available, the United Kingdom alone will generate approximately 320,000 jobs (Rockall, 27). This figure will boost the economies of many countries involved in the automobile business. It is also possible that once the technology has been solidified, developing countries can work into this new field and bolster their own fledgling economies to become more economically sound in the world of technology today. Not only will the economies of counties be boosted by creating jobs creating these cars, but also making jobs in infrastructure.
Thomas Frey(2012), a futurist expert, states that because these driverless cars will be using sensors and camera imaging to detect road conditions and other environment aspects of its travel, highways no longer need to account for human error by making lanes wider than the size of the actual car (Volume 75, p. 39). All infrastructure can be built and rebuilt to make highways, roadways and bridges narrower than in the past allowing for less use of material to build with and less environmental impact on the surrounding area.
Like all new technologies, years of testing is poured into them in order to be certain that they are as safe and user friendly as possible. These driverless cars have been and will be no different. Mike Barnesly (2015) asserts that it is incredibly and possibly too, time consuming and expensive to test these cars (p. 24). According to an article written by Alexandra Sefferin in Time magazine (http://time.com/3964294/driverless-cars-michigan-city-ann-arbor/), in 2014 a 32 acre “city” was built solely for testing these new cars (para. 1). The city itself cost ten million dollars and has been in operation for a little over a year. The city includes manual cars driven by volunteers for the project, changeable weather conditions, natural disasters, and proxy pedestrians to simulate a human emergency. While this method has successfully contributed to making driverless cars a very near possibility, the process is so expensive annually that many argue that these cars should simply be put into commercialization immediately and fixed as problems arise.
While it is easy to see the practicality of driverless cars in our world today, it is impossible to dismiss the lack of moral compass that these cars will have and the inability of car manufacturers to agree on responses to an emergency. While these cars would likely cut down the number or automobile related deaths, they cannot be made available to the public until legislation of some kind is drawn up that determines who is at fault when and if one of these autonomous cars were to injury or kill a pedestrian, another driver or the passenger themselves.