Hopefully the day when you're only allowed to drive your Mustang on a private track is a long way off, but the advent of self-driving cars just might prove to be unstoppable. Companies like Google already have high functioning prototypes driving themselves around the Silicon Valley. Some of those 700,000 accident free miles have been accomplished via vehicles retrofitted with self-driving technology, while others have been accomplished with self-driving cars Google has built from the ground up.
But whether self-driving cars are going to be built as entirely new lines of vehicles or done by retrofitting older models, there are many reasons to see them as something more than a technological novelty.
Perhaps the biggest argument for self-driving cars will be the amount of lives they could possibly save. As the infographic below notes, 81% of the daily 88 deaths as a result of auto accidents are the result of people doing what they inevitably do: Making mistakes. Of course, no one is saying there will be zero traffic accidents if driving is done exclusively by computers, but it's safe to assume that there will be much less than the current 5.5 million car crashes a year if cars are driven by something that never gets distracted, falls asleep, speeds or drives drunk.
However, it's important to point out that self-driving cars could also pose some unique safety problems of their own. As the infographic makes clear, inclement weather, like snow and torrential rains, prevent the car's infrared cameras from being able to accurately sense their surroundings. What's more, if a person signals to a car that is driven by a computer, chances are that the self-driven car won't be able to figure out what the person wants them to do—something that could be very bad in emergency situations.
However, these drawbacks might be more of a result of how new these cars are. Remember, they're mostly in the prototype stage. As the technology progresses, chances are these impairments will be fixed. If self-driving cars ever make it to mass market production, you can bet that a rainstorm won't be able to stop them.
The Business Benefits
Of course, no new technological innovation can truly catch on unless someone, somewhere is poised to make big bucks off of it. While self-driving cars may have terrible economic results for individual workers, like truck drivers, the savings from not having to pay those truckers will be irresistible to almost everyone else. Because they are computer automated and self-driving, these trucks will also be able to always drive at peak fuel efficiency. Plus, shipping times will be cut down because these self driving trucks won't have to stop to sleep or eat.
Take special note that the $109.7 billion in potential economic savings listed on the infographic is an estimate based upon only 20% of cars being self-driving. Only 20%! And that percentage would be likely to increase once other businesses see the costs their competitors are cutting.
No More Drivers?
Of course, some people will never be comfortable in a car if they're not driving it. Lots of people love driving, and the time saved on their commute from reduced traffic and faster speeds that they'd be able to get in a self-driving car won't be worth it if it means they can't be behind the wheel. Who'd want to own a Mustang just to have a computer drive you around in it, anyway?
For now, we'll all just have to wait and see where the road to self-driving cars leads us.