Guest Post: Will driverless cars change our lives for the better?

Driverless cars are all the rage: Tesla’s autopilot is the perfect way to get through that mindless traffic during your commute, and Google has started a brand new company to handle all of their self-driving car technologies. Even Uber has gotten into the game with self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Is this new technology going to change our lives for the better or is it nothing but smoke and mirrors?

Saving Lives
According to a study done by Stanford Law School, human error is the primary cause of car accidents. Humans cause upwards of 90% of accidents, from fatal crashes to fender benders. While those statistics do include those people who are foolish enough to drink or text behind the wheel, the point still stands — the people behind the wheel cause all the problems, so self-driving cars should solve all those problems, right?

Digital Dilemmas
What do you do if you’re driving down the road and a kid runs out into the street in front of you chasing their ball?
If you’re a decent person, you slam on your brakes and swerve to keep from hitting the kid.
Now what happens if the same scenario occurs, but swerving means you’re going to crash into a building or a barrier of some sort, potentially injuring yourself?

That’s the moral and ethical dilemma facing self-driving cars and their programmers. Does your self driving car kill an innocent kid or kill you, its passenger, by driving into a wall to avoid the kid?
Human beings have the ability to make that split second decision, based on their own moral and ethical proclivities. The robot brain driving your car? Not so much.

Security Breaches
Imagine the following scenario: Your self-driving car is carrying you quietly down the road when suddenly, out of nowhere, it starts to accelerate and swerve all over the pavement. You grab the wheel, but it doesn’t seem to steer anymore.
That’s what could happen when your self-diving car is hacked.

As over the top as it might sound, it’s not the plot of a bad science fiction movie. In fact, it’s already happening in cars that don’t even have self-driving capabilities! In 2015, a Wi-Fi enabled Jeep was hacked, which triggered a recall of 1.4 million cars.
If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t want to have any idea where your self-driving car is going to take you, then you might not be too worried about this. We, on the other hand, want to know who’s driving our car even if it’s a self-driving model.

Are driverless cars everything that they’re cut out to be? Not yet, and maybe not for quite a few years. If you like the feel of a steering wheel under your hands, you may be out of luck in a decade or so when these cars start hitting the mainstream. Sure, they have the potential to save lives, but at the same time there are plenty of hurdles that need to be cleared before any of us will feel entirely safe with a computer driving our cars for us.

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer, amateur astronomer, and science enthusiast. She is the editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making scientific topics easy to understand. Megan uploads new posts weekly. Subscribe to her blog to get the latest article or follow her on Twitter.