A Few Words About Self-Driving Cars

I am sure there is much to be said about this subject, but let me start with the obvious.  I would suspect there are hundreds, maybe thousands of lawyers that are salivating at the prospect of taking some big company to court over an accident piloted by a computer.

First, there is the possibility of suing the car manufacturer.  Then they might sue the company that built the computer, or one of the sensors.  Then there is the software company or person who wrote the programming of the computer.  Then again, why discriminate.  They can sue all of them and let the jurors sort it out.

Each time they level a lawsuit, it means 40% of something they would be able to put in their pocket.  My guess is, few if any of the suits would go to court.  The defendants would not want to set any kind of precedent, so they would likely settle out of court.  They would admit no guilt and the plaintiffs would agree to drop the suit.

It would mean, after an accident, the lawyer would raise his hand and say “Suit,” and the defendants would ask how much.  Then, the nation would have two more instant millionaires,  The lawyer and his client.

Then again, I’m not sure.  It might be four more millionaires.  It is entirely plausible that the parties from both cars might sue to to get a piece of the pie.  On the other hand, what if there are more than two cars involved.  The little glitch in the software just might cause a ten car pileup.  I don’t want to even think about that.

The point is, the lawsuits are no longer limited to the tens of thousands of dollars that an individual driver can cough up.  We are talking megabucks now, millions of dollars over what we now call a fender-bender.  Every dent is a possible lawsuit.

It is all ironic.  Eventually, the driver-less cars will be safer than those driven by humans.  It is quite possible that the computer just might reduce crashes and deaths on the highway.  The computers, after all, have three advantages over humans.

Computers are not distracted.  That little instant that a man takes his eyes off the road to look at that barely dressed woman will no longer be a problem.  That misbehaving child in the back seat will not keep you from seeing that car pull out in front of you.  Moreover, should you nod off from staring at that endless ribbon of highway, it’s no problem.  The robot has it all in control.

It takes us humans about 1/4 of a second to react to an emergency.  From the time we see some child dart out in front of us to the time we put our foot on the brake, it takes at least two tenths of a second.  On the other hand, the computer would apply the brake in millionths of a second.  Even at thirty miles an hour, a car can travel quite a distance in a quarter of a second.

It has often been asked, what if the computer fails.  What if a component goes bad.  Today’s computers are incredibly reliable and will likely become far more reliable in the future.  On the other hand, we humans can and do fail from time to time.  I have known of many accidents that were the result of someone pressing on the throttle instead of the brake.  Then too, there are a few of us that are old.  If a heart goes out while we are driving, it can cause people to die… besides the heart attack victim.  Besides, even young people can have heart attacks, or black out from other ailments.

In the long run, computers will be far more reliable, though I would still be hesitant to put my life in the hands of one.

However, until something is done with the legal aspects, autonomous cars will continue to be the exception rather than the rule.  It means that women will not be able to put their makeup on at seventy mph and men will have to ignore that good-looking woman walking by.  As usual, it will be the lawyers that will impede the progress.  Even when it makes the roads safer, the driver-less cars are going to have to wait.  There is no way that our legal system will be able to handle it.  Our courts will be so backed up that they won’t be able to deal with the less important things… such as rape, robbery and murder.

Besides the legal problems, there are the recalls.  One accident, and it would likely result in the recall of millions of autos.  Talk about a nightmare.

Then again, there is one thing that I am really looking forward to… keeping all those alcoholics from driving.  That in itself would save uncountable lives, pain and suffering.  The problem is, as long as lawyers make the laws, driver-less autos will remain quite rare.