If you carpool, you place your trust in whoever is driving that day. Chances are you’ll get where you’re going, but you never know when the person whose turn it is to drive will show up tired, preoccupied – or drunk.
Self-driving cars will fix that. The ones Waymo are working on are already plying the roads of Phoenix. More important, the company says it will be ready to start a commercial service next year, offering self-driving vehicles for commuting and running errands.
Recently Waymo has been publicizing its 360° experience, which gives passengers a panoramic view of the road around the vehicle. The purpose of the feature is to make riders comfortable with the idea of being ferried around by a van with no driver – something that still feels creepy to most people.
But the more interesting bit of news is the fact that the company is about to put the autonomous vehicles in general service.
An End to Drunk Driving?
There’s little doubt that a self-driving vehicle is superior to a human. Even if the cars aren’t perfect – and no technology is at first – they will definitely be more reliable than humans at the task of driving. They devote 100 percent of their attention to the road, are never tired or drunk, and don’t have any wrong ideas about the rules of the road. They never get angry or impulsive.
Whether humans will accept autonomous cars is another story. Crashes with self-driving cars get a lot of press. Once a fatality occurs – and it will happen – the real controversy will begin. Proponents will point to statistics – the number of fatalities will be much lower in percentage terms – but statistics don’t always win the battle.
Take It Slow
Until Waymo’s self-driving cars are proven safe and put in service, we have other means of keeping drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. We have drunk driving laws, BAC limits, and ignition interlocks to prevent people from starting their vehicles when they have been drinking.
Perhaps they won’t be needed one day. That’s fine. But for now, let’s keep at the fight against drunk driving. The time when all cars are autonomous is a long way off. In the meantime, it’s up to plain old, low-tech humans to enforce ignition interlock laws and keep the roads safe.