Monday, October 5, 2015

Editorial: Google's Self Driving Cars show that humans are terrible at following the rules of the road

By Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve
Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
While Google's self-driving cars have gotten a fair amount of press recently for accidents they were involved in, one thing that has not been talked about at all is how the self-driving cars are doing a great job of highlighting just how awfully Americans drive. Every accident so far for Google's self-driving car testers on which the technology is being developed has been the result of human error. Whether that was the error of another driver or of the "driver" behind the wheel, each mistake was not the fault of computers controlling the car. In fact, the computers are coded to so strictly follow the laws that it actually got stuck at an intersection with a four way stop because it placed traffic laws and safety above speed and convenience. It followed the rules to the letter when no one else on the road was doing the same. In order to proceed, the programmers had to alter the coding to get the car to be more aggressive and to emulate some of the bad habits of human drivers.

The fact that we, as drivers, are pretty much granted the privilege to drive for a lifetime without so much as a cursory follow-up to make sure that we are still driving safely is a pretty scary reality. Most drivers develop bad habits over time and those habits are reinforced when we regularly get away with them. Oftentimes it takes a major shift in paradigm or a life-altering event to get most drivers to even look at their own driving habits and reconsider just how good they really are at the whole driving thing. That does beg the question, if we have to teach the self-driving cars to drive like us while there are still human drivers around on the roads, will the robot cars continue to drive like us when humans stop driving altogether? Will having a self-driving car really make you safer if you are still surrounded by people who cannot drive?

What if, and stay with me here, instead of changing how the computers will drive, we start to change how we drive? It is time that our driving legislation caught up with the times and instead of just focusing on easily ticketable offenders designed to bring in money, we focus on equally ticketable offenders that require more attentive enforcement, but are intended to improve safety. Instead of spending money on technology from questionable automated enforcement companies, municipalities could use those funds to require retesting every five or ten years and the fees from the retesting could be used to make the process self sustaining. Police officers, instead of spending time sitting behind a radar gun, could be required to know the driving laws and would actually make an effort to enforce things such as reckless driving, failure to stop at stop signs, or distracted driving.

Heck, I will take it one step further and say that perhaps our driving laws should require mandatory training on motorcycles or bicycles as well to boost the awareness of drivers behind the wheel. While not everyone will continue to use it as a means of transport, just the exposure to living on two-wheels could prove a powerful mechanism for delivering the message about how important it is to be attentive and alert when driving.

Whatever the case, we should look at the upcoming revolution of self-driving cars as a blessing in disguise and as an opportunity to reshape how Americans approach the whole idea of driving. New legislation will be required to cover these self-driving cars and using that as a way to get changes made to our current laws might be a ripe opportunity. On top of that, we should thank Google for helping to bring to light just how bad we are behind the wheel. 

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