While 70% of Americans are afraid of self-driving cars, it’s worth noting that a staggering 94% of all traffic accidents stem from human error. A pivotal question looms before us: Can autonomous vehicles ultimately enhance road safety and transcend public apprehension, along with other immediate challenges?

That’s the thinking in California, where on August 10th, the California Utilities Commission voted to permit Google’s autonomous Waymo and GM’s autonomous Cruise cars to start charging people for taxi rides across the city.

In both the Golden State and elsewhere in the U.S., passionate debates over the merits and demerits of autonomous vehicles are raging. As the autonomous vehicle movement develops, it’s imperative to weigh the benefits and potential drawbacks of these vehicles. Here, we present pros and cons to inform your viewpoint:

Autonomous vehicles pros and cons

Pro: Limiting human error

In theory, self-driving vehicles reduce the probability of an error leading to an accident. These vehicles attempt to rigorously adhere to traffic rules, prioritizing the safety of passengers and others on the road.

Nonetheless, instances of confusion and system errors have been reported. These have led to intersection blockages, minor collisions and even disruptions to emergency response efforts.

Con: Increasing technological failure

Autonomous vehicles heavily rely on technology. Thus far, the technology has proven somewhat glitch-y and error-prone. In one infamous case, an autonomous vehicle failed to engage the brakes, resulting in a pedestrian fatality, as the human driver was too distracted to intervene.

Plus, decisions regarding the retirement of autonomous fleets due to technical issues raise important questions about technological criteria and oversight.

Pro: Reduced traffic congestion

One compelling promise of autonomous vehicles is the potential for them to alleviate traffic congestion. Reduced accident rates, fewer traffic jams and diminished reliance on highway patrols and emergency services could lead to lower insurance rates, decreased fuel consumption and fewer injuries in high-density areas.

Con: Unpredictable traffic patterns

Humans often perceive machines as reliable and predictable. However, research has shown that both human drivers and self-driving cars can engage in unpredictable behavior.

Humans may disregard rules when in a rush, perhaps running a red light out of impatience, while driverless cars are confused by traffic cones, gravel roads, pedestrians, cyclists, and animals.

Pro: Potential for faster travel

In theory, driverless vehicles could eventually mean doing away with speed limits and trusting the cars to transport us at greater speeds. For some, this seems like a huge advantage associated with driverless vehicles. Faster commutes, streamlined school bus routes, efficient cargo transport and swifter medical response times are all potential benefits.

Con: Legal and ethical dilemmas

Autonomous vehicles face moral decisions in real-time; such as determining the priority between occupants vs. pedestrians during unavoidable accidents.

In addition, determining liability in the event of an autonomous vehicle accident is complex, and corresponding legal issues still need to be addressed.

Pro: Fuel efficiency

Autonomous vehicles can optimize driving patterns, reduce idling time and select the most fuel-efficient routes. In turn, this may translate to a reduction in fuel consumption and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, helping us fight climate change.

Con: Job displacement

Extensive adoption of autonomous vehicles and autonomous vehicle fleets could mean job displacement for truckers, delivery personnel and ridesharing drivers. Millions of people currently rely on these jobs to support their families. Transitioning to autonomous transportation could create widespread economic challenges.

Pro: Enhanced productivity

Fully autonomous vehicles, of the kind that Waymo and Cruise have created, mean that humans no longer need to focus on driving. Instead, humans could use time more productively. From reading to working, the time spent traveling in a car could be positively transformed.

Con: Cyber security risks

Autonomous vehicles are internet connected. As a result, they’re vulnerable to cyber hacking and attacks. Advancing the cyber security of these vehicles is critical. Without adequate cyber security, autonomous vehicles could see catastrophic accidents and breaches of personal data.

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Autonomous vehicles, while offering immense promise, also present a variety of challenges.
As this technology continues to evolve, a thoughtful and well-balanced approach to its implementation and regulation is imperative.

For more CyberTalk.org insights into the future of connected cars, please see past coverage. Lastly, to receive more timely cyber security insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.