Self-driving cars now have some company on the road.
A new self-driving truck, the Freightliner Inspiration, was unveiled this week in the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas.
The Inspiration can drive itself on highways, similar to an autopilot function in an airplane.
I have a prediction -- systems like this, and similar ones in cars that require the driver be able to take control back from the computer at any given point in time will increase the risk of serious multi-vehicle crashes rather than decrease them.
If you're going to wreck your car or truck the wreck you want to have, from a societal point of view, is the single-vehicle wreck where only the people in the vehicle are at risk.
In other words the guy who falls asleep at the wheel and dies in a single-vehicle crash takes all the risk of his conduct and all of the consequence; he hurts nobody else.
The worst case scenario is the one where due to your inattentiveness or whatever you wind up plowing into a bunch of other people, injuring or killing them.
I am quite-interested in a self-driving vehicle where I can literally get in the car and tell it to take my drunk ass home. That's the only standard that works for such a vehicle; one where I can sleep, text, work on the computer or whatever without any requirement to take control of the vehicle myself. Unless I am relieved of the legal liability for operation (and thus can be smashed, sleeping or whatever) then requiring me to be available if a dicey situation develops but am not in command at all other times means that I'm less-likely (more like not at all!) to be mentally processing the situation around the vehicle in the moments leading up to the dicey situation and thus the risk of that crash goes up, not down.
"Augmented driving" sounds great but it reduces the amount of mental acuity necessary to operate the car. This sounds great in low-conflict situations where little acuity is necessary in the first instance, for example, cruising on a highway at 70mph. However, if such augmentation means I am not paying attention to the road if a deer suddenly runs across it or a "gator" (blown truck tire) appears just over a crest in a hill right in front of me the odds of my not noticing that in time to react go way up compared to my being fully "in command" in the minutes beforehand. As such these systems are likely to increase rather than decrease the risk of serious accidents involving multiple people and/or vehicles.
Purely warning-oriented systems sound great too (e.g. blind-spot detection) but as things stand right now I need to turn my head before changing lanes in order to know that the space into which I intend to move is in fact clear. Less than perfect coverage by such sensors means that if I don't turn my head due to the BSM system I may run over a motorcycle.
Likewise, backup camera sound great and I like the ability to know exactly where my rear bumper is when backing into a tight parking spot. But, if you try to use that as a replacement for your mirrors and manually clearing the sides with a turn of the head you will eventually clip someone or something on the side of the car due to not performing that basic act as a driver.
So yeah, bring on the automation. But let's cut the crap about "safety benefits" until I can climb in the back seat and punch in a destination, leaving as my only remaining manual task refueling when the tank gets low.