Autonomous Cars: A Better Future Down the Road? Back »

Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.


Cars have allowed us to travel and expand our horizons and the manufacturing of cars has also created countless jobs. However, cars have also contributed to air pollution and thousands of people die in car accidents each year. Will introducing autonomous cars create new problems, exacerbate the problems we have, or will they be a solution?

Passenger Safety
Many people believe that autonomous cars will make the roads a safer place to drive. In 2016, 37,461 people died in car accidents and a study the previous year found that approximately 94% of these accidents were attributed to human error. Some individuals believe that an automated system will have much higher consistency and reliability than human drivers and, as a result, drastically cut down on the number of needless deaths. However, automation levels in cars will increase gradually and there may be some growing pains before cars are completely autonomous. One concern is that when cars are partially autonomous, such as a Level 3, drivers will not have to pay constant attention to the road, but may be expected to take over in certain situations. This may mean that the driver may not be constantly alert during the drive and may not react quickly enough when the situation call them to. Some fear that this will lead to an increase in accidents before autonomous cars are developed enough to where they lead to a downturn in accidents.

Traffic & Environment
The impact of autonomous cars on things like congestion and air pollution are much trickier to gage and will most likely be dependent on which type of ownership model is used. The belief is that shared use of autonomous vehicles will result in fewer cars on the roads, less congestion, and potentially less air pollution, while private ownership of autonomous would result in more congestion (partially because cars without any passengers may be on the road) and thus more air pollution. Lauren Isaac discusses the difference in these two models in her TedTalk. Others theorize that autonomous cars may also be fueled by electricity, rather than fossil fuel, which could act as an imperative to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

In Summary
In conclusion, it is difficult to determine the long term impact of autonomous cars. As Stephen Buckley noted autonomous vehicles  will transform everything they touch.” This means that the positive or negative impacts of autonomous cars ride largely on our shoulders of consumers and citizens.

Would you like to learn more about autonomous cars? Please check out our article called Autonomous Cars: Welcome to the Future for additional information.


References & Additional Readings

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