Google received the first license to test driverless cars in Nevada, paving the way for a revamped driving culture.
The cars pilot themselves using lasers installed in the roof and grill, and passengers often do not have to touch the brakes or steering wheel to reach their destination.
Las Vegas residents may see the test batch out on the streets immediately, identified by a red license plate with an infinity symbol on it. Don’t expect empty vehicles picking up their passengers, because two people must be present in the cars at all times.
The navigation system can sense pedestrians, other motorists, cyclists and other hazards, but if a problem occurs the passengers can override the auto-pilot and drive the car themselves. The system sounds like it combines the ease of convenience with the control of traditional vehicles: so, what’s the problem?
After Google got its hands on a license, the DMV suggested other companies are clamoring to try their hands at auto-piloted cars, so they may be available for commercial use on a wide scale soon. Google envisions the cars as a remedy for the distracted driving uptick plaguing the country.
Auto-piloted cars, however, invite the people inside to focus on other things, which will wreak havoc if a glitch occurs when the passengers aren’t paying attention. Instead of curbing distracted driving, the cars may cultivate it, lulling the people inside into a false sense of security.
While the cars may drive more slowly and deliberately than a texting teen, they also lack a pretty vital quality — they aren’t sentient, so they can’t react to specific situations the same way humans can. For instance, if a traffic light or stop sign is down, the cars may not recognize the need to tailor driving to the unforeseen obstacle, while passengers may not be paying vigilant attention since the car is doing the work.
If anything deviates from the norm or the car’s system shuts down, relaxing passengers are not likely to spring into action with the same reaction times as people who feel responsible for their well-being.
Recent driving innovations like Newcastle University’s DriveLab, which monitors the driver’s health and assists in making difficult turns, are likely to help people become better drivers because they still require concentration on the task at hand, while the driverless vehicles go a step too far removing personal responsibility.
Especially in its early incarnation, Google’s auto-piloted car isn’t perfect, and as other companies get the go-ahead to roll their models out, the roads may become more dangerous, not less, as drivers cede their responsibilities to their cars, ironically, in the name of safer driving.