Self-driven, computerized cars are on the way, but not without some unintended consequences

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

The Youtube video showed the truck driver reading a book, working on his laptop and taking a nap, while the truck was barreling down the highway.

The driver wasn’t concerned. Actually, he wasn’t really the driver. The truck was driving itself. Why was the driver even there? For illustration purposes only. The truck’s computer was doing all the work.

I’ve written before about self-driving cars in the making, but this is the first time I saw the feature being demonstrated in a truck.

That makes sense, though. For years Google has been testing a self-driven car. A truck is no different. Now, the major car manufacturers also are jumping on the bandwagon, planning self-driving features in their future models.

The technology is there, but there will be some unintended pitfalls.

• New York City Cab drivers will be out of jobs, and will have to learn to speak English. Plus, you can’t tell the computer that you’re trying to catch a plane and will double the tip if it gets you to the airport on time.

• Truck drivers will be out of work also. You’ll just need people to load and unload the trucks at the destinations. I’ll miss yelling at the truck that is going too slow uphill and too fast downhill. It’s not rewarding to yell at a computer-driven truck.
• Pizza delivery drivers will eventually be out of work as well. I envision pizza delivery vans with credit card swipe slots on the side and a place where you can insert the money before your order slides out of the van through a chute. After you get your order, the car continues to it’s next destination. No tipping required. Computers don’t know what to do with tips.

• Teenagers about to turn 16 won’t have the thrill of getting their learners’ permits, since there won’t be a need for drivers licenses anymore. That would leave a big void in the teen experience. But, fewer of them will die in accidents, since I doubt that self-driven cars could be programmed to drag race, or do anything else illegal.

• Limousine drivers will no longer be needed. As a matter of fact, eventually, and perhaps within our lifetime, all driving jobs will disappear.

• No need for defensive driving classes, unless they want to continue holding them in the parking lot, using ones and zeros (computer language). It will kill off the few remaining brick and mortar schools left, and the Internet schools.

• I suppose race car drivers will still be competing against each other. But why not make it more interesting and pit their skills against the machine? We did it in chess. Computer against human. A few self-driven race cars could be mixed in with the traditional ones driven by humans, and let’s see who wins. Or, we could just race self-driven cars.

How long will we have to wait for all this to become reality? Maybe a decade.

Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo, and others have autonomous vehicle initiatives under way. That’s where the big money will be made from now on, and the manufacturer that can get the most advanced product out there first gets to grab a big part of the market.

So, the race is on, so to speak.

Now that I have listed all the negative effects of self-driven cars, here is a list compiled by Forbes on the good things it will accomplish.

• Reduced deaths, reduced accidents: In the U.S. alone, there were over 33,000 automobile deaths in 2013. For those aged 5 to 34 in the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death, claiming the lives of 18,266 Americans each year.

• Saving LOTS of Money and Time: It’s estimated that AVs could save over 2.7 billion unproductive hours commuting to work. This in turn translates to an annual savings of $447.1 billion per year in the U.S. alone (assuming 90% AV penetration). This number was calculated by taking into account crash cost savings, congestion benefits, reduced travel times, fuel savings, parking savings, changes in total number of vehicles, and other factors.

• Massive Fuel Savings: Today, a 4,000-lb. SUV spends less than 4% of its energy moving a 150-lb. driver around. Imagine if a car could be significantly lighter (because they don’t crash), getting four times the mpg?

• No New Roads, Less Traffic: Autonomous vehicles packed with sensors can drive fast and efficiently at 8 times the packing density of today’s human-driven cars. This means no traffic jams and no need to build new roads. Plus, when they pack closely together, the reduction in wind drag alone could reduce fuel use up to 20 – 30 percent.