I’ve written over the last couple of weeks about advances in police technology, but one of the other technology changes that has a major societal impact is self driving cars. People have been talking about this for years, and recently both Google and Elon Musk are seriously working on self driving cars. Other companies are too, but not to the same extent.

Progress Report on Self Driving Cars

Google's_Lexus_RX_450h_Self-Driving_CarLast week Google released a report on where they’d got to with self driving cars. They plan to report monthly from now on. Their self driving cars have clocked up 1.1 million miles in autonomous mode, and have been involved in 12 accidents. None of those accidents have been the fault of the self driving cars, in fact for 8 of the 12 the vehicle was stationary. If you ignore the five accidents where the self driving cars were actually under manual control, then they were stationary in 6 out of 7 cases, and the 7th involved a human in another car changing lanes when driving parallel to the self driving car.

What this tells me is that the self driving cars are probably safer on the road than us humans are. The more milage they clock up, and the lower the rate of accidents they’ve caused, the easier it will be to argue that they are safer than us. When that happens then we shall probably start to see them appear in our car showrooms. As well as California, where they are being tested, the UK has already approved the principle of self driving cars on the roads.

Benefits of Self Driving Cars

Many of these are obvious, but self driving cars will change how we behave as much as they improve road safety. My three year old daughter might never learn to drive, by the time she is old enough it is likely that there will be enough good self driving cars out there that it probably wont be worth the time and money to bother learning to control a fully manual vehicle.

If you drive you’ll know that one of the things that you need to worry about is where you park your vehicle when you get to your destination. With a self-driving car you could just step out at the nearest place that you can stop and get on with what you came for. The car will then drive off and park itself somewhere and come back when you call it. The self driving cars will be networked, so they’ll know where the spaces are, and they can pack in more closely than humans can, especially if you don’t need to worry about opening the doors.

The other feature of networked self driving cars is that they can co-ordinate while they are moving to keep the traffic flowing. This should smooth out a lot of the stop start that you get on motorways when someone brakes a little too enthusiastically and the car behind a little more. Ten miles back traffic comes to a complete halt. This just won’t happen. Also if we still have traffic lights, these ┬ácan be added to the network and be very smart indeed. Most cases the lights wouldn’t even need to activate, only if there was a manual driver detected in the flow of traffic.

Manual driving would probably end up like smoking, seen as a dangerous thing but tolerated in its reservations (go to a track if you want to drive a car, but don’t endanger others by doing it in company).

Thoughts or comments welcome.