Why It's Okay If Self-Driving Cars May Never Dominate
Sat, April 10, 2021

Why It's Okay If Self-Driving Cars May Never Dominate

Having a machine replicate and perform the complex tasks done by human drivers is difficult / Photo Credit: metamorworks (via Shutterstock)


Over the past year or two, having a machine replicate and perform the complex tasks done by human drivers has been a lot more difficult than we think, wrote Scott Corwin of business news website Forbes. Consumers remain to be frightened by the risks AVs bring to the table. Regulation is also fragmented and vague and the economics behind AI-enabled business models is unclear. Let’s ask ourselves these questions: “What happens if we only see limited, specific applications of self-driving cars? If AVs prove not to be viable, do our hopes for a better mobility future vanish?” 

Hardly. While there’s a possibility for AVs to address mobility woes, it doesn’t mean that they would actually solve mobility issues. Depending on how, when, and where AVs are deployed, they might do little to alleviate congestion, improve mobility access and equity, or minimize emissions. In fact, AVs could make these problems worse. Even if AVs are absent on public roads, breakthroughs in mobility technology and services, as well as new policy and governance approaches and real-life deployments in cities prove that we can create a mobility system that benefits our society. 

Safety is the primary impetus for removing human drivers, with human error causing over 1.25 million deaths each year. However, the growing availability of advanced driver-assist features such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure swings help create safer roads even if drivers are still part of the equation. We should not also overlook infrastructure designs like protected bike and scooter lanes, traffic cameras, and the like. 

Reducing emissions and improving air quality rely on electrification and renewable sources, not automation. Electric vehicle adoption should be encouraged, as is with shifting to more sustainable alternatives like walking or cycling. Maybe AVs are overhyped, perceiving them as the future of mobility. But we must remember that AVs and other technologies are just tools, whether they improve or hinder our society.