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Empty Seats – The Future of Driverless Cars

For the majority of people, commuting is simply a part of life and for many, this entails driving. Studies show a steady increase in the number of hours most commuters spent behind the wheel but with this has come an increase in vehicle accidents as well. 90% of accidents are due to human error – and it’s easy to imagine the exponential increase in human error when drivers are forced to focus on the road for extended periods, in the presence of so many distractions. The solution, however, may be just around the corner…     

One of the biggest trends in emerging technologies is a push toward automated, driverless cars. And it’s accelerating faster than expected. Google and Nissan are just two of the many companies working toward the goal of autonomous automobiles. While each R&D lab has its own precise idea of how this dream is going to roll out, the one thing that informs all their efforts is a commitment to taking driver-assist technology to the next level by removing the driver altogether. With pre-crash sensors, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and lane departure warnings becoming commonplace in new vehicles, it’s apparent the technology is practically ready. The question is, are we?

There seems to be an inescapable fear-factor in the autonomous car dialogue but this mentality has been around much longer than the notion of an empty driver’s seat. When fully automated elevators were first introduced, people were so terrified of riding them, an operator was required to be present to push the buttons that the passengers were quite capable of pressing on their own. Decades later the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) saw a steep decrease in fares when their trains became fully automated. Again, a dummy operator was required to reassure passengers that there was indeed, a living, breathing person in control of the situation. The moral of the story? Human arrogance seems to pervade our sensibilities. We’re just not comfortable with the idea that a machine could possibly be safer than our instincts and reactions – and for good reason. Nothing has ever come close to the human brain as far as data capacity and processing speed. Until now.

As we sit on the edge of autonomous technology, we’re being confronted with a new reality. Machines might just be our best bet when it comes to navigating today’s increasingly congested transportation systems. Of course, there’s still a balance to maintain as we transition to this way of thinking. Most governments are open to this tech, providing that they still allow human intervention when necessary. The irony, however, is that most studies show that the highest accident risk to be the transition point when the human driver takes control of the vehicle. Bottom line? Danger will never be fully eradicated from the transportation process but automated vehicles with collision avoidance technologies will mitigate much of the risk of driving and minimize instances of death and injury. That’s a world we’ll all enjoy living in. If we can just get our heads around it.

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