Autonomous Pitfalls?

October 9th, 2012
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In April of 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation that would legalize the use of autonomous vehicles. Nevada followed suit in June 2011 and most recently California’s Gov. Brown signed similar legislation.

Google has been testing their autonomous vehicles for some time and boast 300,000 miles on the road. So far, there have only been two reported accidents involving Google’s self driving cars. In one instance, the passenger of a Google car took manual control of the vehicle causing the crash and in the other instance the autonomous vehicle was rear ended.

While these statistics are mildly impressive, the true safety of the autonomous vehicle will not be seen until everyone is riding in one. Taking human error out of the equation will no doubt reduce accidents. However, it does raise several questions that have yet to be answered.

When asked, “Who gets the ticket if an autonomous vehicle runs a red light”, Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin replied, “Self-Driving cars do not run red lights.” In reality machines and even software are not infallible and problems will inevitably arise. So who would get the ticket? More importantly, what happens if a self-driving car accident results in a fatality? Who is held accountable, the passenger of the vehicle on the fritz, Google or no one?

Another interesting question to pose, what about automotive insurance? There are roughly 48 states that require automotive insurance and all of them recommend it or have some stipulations requiring it in a round about way. Would we witness a dying industry in automotive insurance once autonomous vehicles become fully saturated?

The final point of concern is raised in terms of state funding. We hate to view traffic laws and DUIs as anything other than safety precautions. The truth is that these institutions, although very necessary and help to keep us all safe, are huge revenue generators for state income.

The money made from speeding tickets, DUIs and even something as simple as parking and seatbelt tickets is used to fund roads, the public school system and everything covered by state tax dollars. If the autonomous vehicle is as truly perfected as Google would have us believe, states would be taking a massive revenue hit. We would have to see higher taxes ‘some where’ to accommodate that loss.

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