California Places New Hurdles In the Path of Driverless Cars

Driverless vehicles are threatening to take jobs from taxi drivers, deliverymen, and bus drivers. Their improved productivity may provide the economy with a boost. But can we trust them? The first fatality for a car using driverless technology happened earlier this year. Additionally. the public still doubts whether a computer can make life or death decisions behind the wheel.

California Places New Hurdles In the Path of Driverless Cars


Why Use Self-Driving Cars

There are two versions of self-driving cars, those built to be fully autonomous, and those which have a passenger available to take over in cases of emergency. The argument made by companies promoting this technology, most famously Google, is that computers can drive more carefully, and adjust to dangerous conditions more quickly. However a study by the University of Michigan found this not to be the case.

Are Driverless Cars Safe?

The study, published in 2015, noted that self-driving cars crashed more per million miles on the road than traditional cars. Still, the self-driving cars had not been at fault in any of those cases. While the crashes were typically minor, one explanation for why these cars perform worse is that the human drivers around them change their behavior when they notice a driverless car.

According to researcher Brandon Schoettle, “You don’t want to be behind it because it might be overly cautious and stop [when you don’t expect it to].”

Will a Driverless Car Kill You?

Another problem with driverless cars is that humans have difficulties with the type of ethics applied by most driverless car programs. In the case of an accident, the system will need to decide how to react, and generally will choose whichever option results in the least loss of life, and secondarily, the least amount of property damage. According to a survey commissioned by the University of Oregon, 76 percent of respondents agreed with this in theory.  But few people are willing to purchase or ride in a vehicle which runs by those stated principles.

Iyad Rahwan, one of the co-authors of the study noted that “People want what’s in the common good, but they want a free ride by buying cars that prioritize their own safety.”

California Tells Uber to Pull Over

This week, California has stopped Uber, one of the leaders in the development and deployment of self-driving cars, from operating driverless cars in the state over a special permit that the company refuses to apply for. Uber argued that its competitor Tesla has placed cars with auto-assist technology on the road without the permit, and that the two technologies were fundamentally the same. Both require a passenger to monitor driving at all times. California just cancelled the registration for all 16 of the Uber cars that had been operating in San Fransisco. While waiting for the resolution, Uber has switched its testing to Arizona. The company also has approval to test drive self-driving cars in Pennsylvania.

Could a Robot Car Take Your Job?

Autonomous cars do not threaten humans simply in terms of accidents. Automation can also threaten the employment of those who work as drivers. Driverless cars and trucks promise companies lower costs for wages and benefits. Additionally, these vehicles can run continuously, without needing to take breaks, and will also lower insurance costs. Taxi drivers are especially at risk. First because Uber is already vested in the technology. Also many taxi drivers are already on the fringes. They pick the position to accommodate tight schedules or to pick up extra money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are over two million truck drivers in America alone. As many as 1.5 million other individuals face employment losses in whole or in part. This includes taxi and Uber drivers, meter maids, bus drivers, and parking lot attendants. It’s unclear at this point whether the increased efficiency might create new opportunities for those left unemployed.

How Will Driverless Cars Affect Trading?

Uber stocks will take a hit based on the California decision to halt testing. Any concerns that delay widespread adoption of the technology could also spillover and affect share prices for Google and Tesla. The major indices include several companies that produce technology for autonomous cars, so watch the DOW and S & P 500 for a dip, as the technology gets tested.