The race to create the self-driving car continues at a feverish pace, with major players pumping billions into the effort. But Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief and co-CEO of Quartz, said that when it comes to autonomous vehicles, “we’re heading towards hell.”
“These cars are not safe yet,” Delaney said. “There are five levels of autonomous vehicle safety, according to the U.S. government’s certification, and right now, at best, we’re at level two. What this means is that people need to be keeping their hands on the wheel, they need to be keeping alert to avoid accidents.”
That’s not the only potential problem. “What researchers have found is that when people have access to cars driving that require less effort and money, they actually drive a lot more,” Delaney said. “So the traffic that we experience today is likely to get a lot worse.”
To avoid those problems and establish a “good path” for autonomous vehicles, Delaney said, there are a few solutions. One is to introduce autonomous vehicles in waves, starting with lower-risk innovations like low-speed buses. Platooning – having a human drive one truck, with an autonomous truck following close behind – is another option.
The other key is to encourage carpooling. “If you make it easier for people to drive, because they could sleep, or do whatever, while [their] car is driving, we need to make sure that it’s more like Uber Pool than Uber X,” he said. “Otherwise, the congestion is going to be atrocious.”
Policy will need to shift too, Delaney said. “What we see currently is that there’s not a lot of guidance coming out of Washington,” he said. “There’s not enough. And this is like a lot of other areas of policy and politics where our lawmakers are struggling. And our current administration is actually struggling to take the lead here.”
“And so what we’re seeing is that it’s actually the car makers and the tech companies who are involved in this area themselves, who are pooling data and who are starting to collaborate a lot more on some of the safety things that need to be done,” he added. “I think it’s in all of our interests that our governments actually get more involved and get in front of this.”
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