Just in the nick of time comes a lifeline over the newswire: Nissan plans to roll out a “driverless” car in 2020. (Google is even more ambitious with their own version promised by 2017.) The discovery of antibiotics was really neat—but an autonomous car is right up there with central heating and waterproof mascara. For all those automobile-a-phobes who break out in a sweat having to make a left turn or merge on a highway, this is Xanadu.
Let’s face it: Some people were born to be on the passenger side. For them, long drives are for staring out the window, daydreaming, counting blue convertibles, and applying hand cream, not checking blind spots. Fortunately, many of them already know, deep in their bones, that driving a car is ill-advised. Unfortunately, there’s a group who either don’t realize they’re terrible drivers or just don’t care. Then there’s a third group, who know they stink behind the wheel and do care but circumstances have forced them to become “drivers.”
Accidents happen. But studies show that distracted drivers cause more fatal crashes than impaired drivers. And, with more gadgets splintering our attention, accidents caused by people texting is growing apace. Since people are not going to give up their gadgets, autonomous cars may be the only solution to keep our roads as safe as they should be.
Cars have never been safer. Today, many models have built-in cameras to assist in reversing, lasers, radars, sonar sensors and high-speed microprocessors. As the cars have gotten smarter, perversely their drivers have moved in the inverse direction. They apply make-up, text, read books, work on their laptops, eat meals, drink or pick their noses—none of which enhance their driving.
One way to reduce accidents would be to prevent cars from going excessively fast. But a much better solution is to take the human right out of the equation. The Nissan Leaf intends to do just that. In a recent demonstration in Los Angeles, it behaved like a perfect gentleman. It smoothly merged into traffic, nimbly dodged a series of large, orange barrels, and stopped at a red light.
Not only will the autonomous car protect other drivers and pedestrians from lunatic or careless drivers, perhaps even ending all traffic fatalities, but it will reduce global warming. More efficient use of roads will reduce global CO2 emissions by as much as 300 tonnes annually.
But for all the potential gains the new technology will bring—safer roads, unlimited, carefree texting, cleaner air, lower fuel costs—there will be casualties, maybe even a few fatalities: Expect lawyers specializing in personal injury cases to try to throw a wrench in the works.
Image credit: Nissan