The world is gradually embracing self driving cars. Google seems to be more aggressive than the others in pursuing this, with the conventional car makers not far behind in the race to ditch the steering wheel and brake pedals altogether .
Are traffic wardens and long distance haulage drivers looking for other jobs already?
If you are a driver who is on the roads in a metropolis like Lagos or Milan for extended hours, you may have noticed that ‘road rage’ sometimes grabs hold of you. Staying rational and civil when people tailgate you, cut you off, stop abruptly, turn without traffickating (indicating?), overtaking dangerously, taking one way, etc, etc, can loosen a few screws in your head, and make you suffer trichotilomania.
From time to time, you retaliate and let the steam off by behaving the way you ordinarily wouldn’t – like a maniac. I have actually been annoyed enough, I am ashamed to admit, into dragging a fellow driver from the driver seat after he side swiped me and was unapologetically indifferent..
This mutially assured madness (MAM) is enough deterrent for (some) other drivers to maintain some sanity on the road. (I say some, because the madness of some drivers does not have Part Two) . If you know that cutting off a person rudely due to impatience could lead to some people deliberately ramming into you and damn the consequence, you would desist, most of the time. You wouldn’t tailgate another driver while going at 120km/hr, unless you have a prime candidacy for a mental home.
This brings us to the practicality of deploying self driving cars along with ordinary cars having people at the steering wheel, on the same autobahn. No matter how well a machine (self driving car) is programmed, it can’t operate outside the ambience of the foresight of the programmer. It simply can’t have the intelligence or independence of thought of a human driver.
If a self driving vehicle is plying the Benin – Ore road, robbers out accelerates it, and cuts in front of it, the self driving vehicle would likely do everything to avoid a collision and stop. Easy prey for the marauders. A human driver would be able to apply his discretion in unforseen circumstances, and use his human intellect. A machine is not that blessed. Supposing an autonomous vehicle has to choose between crushing a robber jumping into the middle of the road and crushing that robber or activating evasive maneuvers, how would it be able to determine between a drunk jaywalker and someone with sinister motives?
The Google cars are the epitome of well mannered road behaviour, would never overspeed, beat traffic lights, cut other drivers off, or partake in other obnoxious road manners human drivers are notorious for. For this reason, it would appear that dedicated lanes for these cars would be the best bet. Like the BRT lanes in lagos, these would bring out the best attribute of a self driving vehicle. They would be able to drive themselves at maximum speeds, with inches separating them, something that could not be attempted when other human driven vehicles are on the same road. This strategy would allow far more self driving vehicles to be crammed unto the roads, shorten the journey times tremendously, with close to zero risks of smash ups (cars don’t text while driving and don’t drink drive, haha!) .
I can imagine self driving cars being deployed on Nigeria roads. I bet they would not be able to operate. Forcing them to stop, to get robbed or raped of onboard passengers) would be a piece or cake. Danfo drivers and other impatient commuters would speedily learn that an autonomous vehicle is programmed to anticipate and avoid smash ups at all costs. Thus, forcing them off the road by cutting into them. In traffic would be the order of the day.
The well mannered sanity of the autonomous driverless vehicles would simply exacerbate insanity of ‘manned’ cars on the roads.
Having automated vehicles with ‘human override’ controls could worsen the situation. An autonomous vehicle would ‘see’ far better than a human with just two eyes. It could take decisions in split seconds due to inputs from its panoramic sensors that would send the human driver on board into panic, leading to fatal results.
The solution? Deploy human ‘mass transit’ self driving vehicles on dedicated lanes only. Haulage vehicles would also benefit radically. High speed trains can go at the speeds they do because the rail tracks are dedicated. No inattentive human causing avoidable mishap!
(By the way, when are we having self driving trains? They seem to be better candidates for complete automation than even the vehicles)