I came across this article on Bloomberg about driverless cars and it brings up some interesting points. You can read the statistics two ways. One way (that driverless cars have around twice the accidents as human-driven ones) is a bit worrying, but then you look at why. All of these accidents are rear-ending or similar things where the human drivers in the other cars on the road don’t react correctly by leaving enough braking-space or by speeding, running a light or other such things. Basically, the computers are too law-abiding and drive like a granny or a newly-fledged driver. Recently a Google car was told off for driving too slowly, too, at 25mph in a 30mph limit. Quite a queue had built up behind, maybe tempting some people at the back to overtake several cars at once in places where the visibility wasn’t adequate to take the risk. We’ve all at some time been stuck behind a slow vehicle.
There’s also problem merging into fast traffic. Will the other cars make way for the driverless car trying to merge in, and be polite? It’s not a computable problem, so control then is passed to the human driver who will take a chance based on years of experience (and bear in mind that this is often a big problem for grannies and newly-fledged drivers, too). If all the cars were driverless, no problems since they’d be predictable and probably also talking to each other, but mixing impatient people with emotionless robots is going to cause some accidents. It’s going to be interesting to see what solutions are found for these situations. Maybe there’ll be some situations where exceeding the speed-limit is programmed in, since again I think we’ve all been in situations where that’s a reasonable response to the traffic.
One of the signs of an experienced driver, as I see it, is that their responses are predictable. There are also subliminal signals by positioning on the road that enable another experienced driver to say what will happen before the other driver signals their intention to overtake, turn off etc.. These skills of “reading the road” give us a shorter journey-time and a smoother ride with no sharp braking. Teaching them to an AI will be an interesting progression, with an end-point of not needing them once all cars are robot-controlled and net-connected. Then all you have to worry about are the hackers….