Ministers in the United Kingdom outlined plans on Wednesday that would make room for driverless cars on public roads as early as January of 2015. There are several advantages to trusting a computer to run a vehicle instead of a human, including vastly improved traffic management as well as allowing a higher level of leisure for passengers. However, driverless cars could also bring several new dangers and safety concerns to the roadways, which have many asking if these vehicles are truly safe.
For starters, the U.K. will have to revise the Highway Code, particularly an element which states that “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle.” Driverless cars are, by definition, completely out of the control of any of the vehicle's passengers, although an agreed upon change last May allows for driverless cars as long as the passengers have the ability to take direct control if needed.
Driverless vehicles are legal in the state of California and are used by groups like Google, but groups like the FBI fear that autonomous vehicles could allow criminals to easily escape in car chases or even use their vehicle as a weapon. Without a driver, criminals in a getaway car could focus on firing weapons from their vehicle, effectively transforming it into a mobile gun platform. Other issues involve having to rationalize decisions where a vehicle about to strike a pedestrian could swerve out of the way – at the cost of the lives of the passengers inside.
Still, the benefits of driverless vehicles are likely to outweigh the detriments, as it would ultimately lead to safer roads for all. While many feel that such a system would only work if all vehicles on the road were driverless, so far it appears that having sensor arrays on the vehicles to monitor the surrounding environment is far safer than linking up millions of cars to a single organizational grid, which would allow those who preferred to drive their own vehicles the option to do so.
Edited by Alisen Downey