17 dumb guy questions about self driving cars

If you believe a lot of what you read these days, you’ll know that self-driving cars are about to turn the planet upside own. Advocates — and there are many — say autonomous vehicles are ‘disruptors’ that are almost certain to reduce the amount we drive, the number of cars we own, traffic congestion, the need for parking and and the need to employ humans as bus drivers/taxi drivers/truck drivers.

Credit: The New Yorker. Illustration by Harry Campbell. Click above to read their 2013 story on self-driving caras.

Credit: The New Yorker. Illustration by Harry Campbell. Click above to read their 2013 story on self-driving caras.

Wow! Cartwheels! Almost sounds too good to be true!

Me? Well, I’m having trouble getting on board, although I certainly believe cars will have more automated safety features and there will be some hands-free driving features.

I’m the first to admit my skepticism may be directly correlated to me being an Increasingly Older Goat (age 50, to be exact). Or maybe I’m just too dumb to get it. That said, I’ve been around long enough to witness the Law of Unintended Consequences and that many claims never come to pass (see: email increasing workplace efficiency, the prediction by those in the medical industry and Big Pharm that opioids aren’t very addictive and Big Ag’s and Big Chem’s predictions that genetically-modified crops would increase yields).

So, I have questions. If you know answer(s) to any of following, feel free to provide them in the comments and/or explain to me how poorly informed I am.

It’s often said autonomous vehicles will use road space more efficiently. How much more capacity will self-driving cars be able to squeeze out of a place such as Southern California? What happens when that capacity is reached?

Another way of asking the question: what if self-driving cars makes travel by car even more popular? Wouldn’t that lead to more traffic congestion?

How much will the average autonomous vehicle car cost?

For what it’s worth, the average of cost of a new car or light truck in the U.S. was about $33,500 last year, so says the experts. I suspect a car that can drive itself would be more, just like my $650 iPhone cost more than my old dumb phone that was mounted on the wall and only made phone calls.

Will humans still be allowed to drive? 

If not, who pays to get all of us into autonomous vehicles?

Why should we believe that humans will give up driving?

Think “cold dead hands.”

If only self-driving cars were allowed on the road, how would that impact the number of car fatalities in the country?

Any numbers out there? I’m well aware of the federal stats that show the many poor decisions that human drivers make.

Safety is the reason most-often given for developing self-driving cars? Are there any studies that show if there are greater safety gains to be had from greater enforcement of traffic laws versus self-driving laws?

Because in my neck of the woods, traffic laws are rarely enforced, the reason I see countless drivers rolling through stop signs, driving illegally through crosswalks, running through red lights, speeding and (most of all) fiddling with their Dumb Phones while their vehicles are in motion.

How much faster or slower will autonomous vehicles be than current vehicles?

I’m asking because speed has in recent times been a factor in about 30 percent of fatal crashes.

Why is an autonomous bus better than one with a driver?

Is it safer? Because buses are already very safe. Faster? More predictable? Cheaper? Any proof of any of that?

If I go out and get stupid drunk, can I still ride alone in my autonomous vehicle?

If improving safety is a goal, it seems like I should be allowed.

If I go out and get stupid drunk, can I still ride in an on demand autonomous vehicle with other on demand riders?

If I’m sober, I probably don’t want to ride with someone who is drunk.

If I get drunk and barf in an on demand autonomous vehicle, who knows to clean it up before the next passengers get in?

I say this as someone who has been nearly barfed upon in a yellow cab. But at least there was a driver who got the barfee out of the car on time.

Will the software that guides autonomous vehicles be better in some brands than others? 

Reassure me that the software in (for example) a German-made BMW will communicate well with the software in a (for example) Chinese-made Volvo S60. And reassure me that the software will not be using Google Translate when it comes time to say “you go first.”

Will some car companies offer self-driving cars that drive more aggressively?

If so, that’s probably the brand that I want.

How much will it cost to subscribe to an on-demand autonomous vehicle?

I’m talking the unlimited plan that allows me to go anywhere within 25 miles of my house whenever I want.

How do we know that such on demand vehicles will lead to lower rates of vehicle ownership?

After all, many folks say it’s better to own than lease or rent.

If I own a self-driving car, will the cost of my auto insurance go down?

If I’m likely to never cause a crash, I would like lower premiums please.

Will self-driving cars and buses and ride hailing and ride sharing be so good that they gut the need for old-timey fixed bus and train routes?

I’ll answer that one myself: almost certainly not. Despite the promises, self-driving cars are likely to make traffic worse, not better. And cars are expensive no matter whether you’re buying, renting or going for a taxi ride — will they really be within financial reach of the many low-income riders or fixed-income riders who use Metro and other transit agencies every day?

Whether it’s an old-timey car that requires a human driver or not, there’s little evidence that Americans are ready to spend less time in cars. And there’s no evidence that the companies developing the technology are going to give it away for free. It’s probably realistic to expect that at some point the Ubers of the world will need to make money, too.

 

9 replies

  1. As cars keep getting more and more reliable, the average age of a vehicle continues to increase. The bad economy has made more people less likely to buy a new car, and to keep on to what they have. I don’t see that changing either.

    • I’ve had my Subaru Outback for 9.5 years and it’s still going strong although replacing the timing belt this summer was a kick in the groin to my wallet.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. A car that you rent only for the time you use it and it doesn’t come with a person that is paid to drive you is called CAR2GO. Its a point-to-point car sharing service that is owned by Daimler-Benz. The same company that owns Smart, which is the car that is rented. This is a car that can be bought for less than $20,000 at a dealer. It costs considerably less than that for Daimler-Benz to use it for CAR2GO since they own the company that manufacturers it.

    OK, point to point car sharing using a cheap car and no paid driver. How much does that cost?

    It’s $.41 a minute, or $14.99 an hour to use CAR2GO as you can see in this link:

    https://www.car2go.com/US/en/

    The average commute time in LA is 30 minutes. That will cost $12.30 or $24.60 for a round trip using CAR2GO. Let’s assume you only have to use CAR2GO for 20 minutes to get to work. That will cost you $8.20, or $16.40 a day to commute. Currently, it cost no more than $3.50 a day to use Metro to commute.

    Part of the costs of transit and car sharing services like CAR2GO that people don’t consider is having to clean the interior of the vehicles after every day of use by the public and the cost of frequent mechanical inspections to insure that the vehicle is in good working order. These involve higher daily costs compared to if each person owned and drove their own car. There is also higher costs involved for car sharing, compared to you using a car that you own, due to the company providing this service wanting to make a profit.

    Also, if self driving cars are to dramatically reduce the amount of fatal collisions on city streets, then that has to involve going much slower to reduce the severity of impact in collisions. Traveling on freeways could be at a high speed due to much less complexity in things that could go wrong. But for city streets there are pets or children that could run into the streets, also the car would have to know the street is one-way and determine where to travel when there is no white line to guide it. Its extremely difficult for a computer to match the ability of humans to drive along streets. There’s a myriad of things that could quickly change or go wrong.

    • So my question about this: what if everyone tries to order a CAR2GO all at the same time during rush hour? How do we keep up with the demand without prices going through the roof?

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. I’ll be answering the questions that I can answer without using a crystal ball.

    1. It’s often said autonomous vehicles will use road space more efficiently. How much more capacity will self-driving cars be able to squeeze out of a place such as Southern California? What happens when that capacity is reached?

    Thanks to the new sensors in self driving cars, they can drive closer together to each other. With regards to parking, self driving cars are able to park themselves in less congested areas. If we’re looking at the subscription model, instead of parking, these cars can just go and pick up different passengers instead of taking up space in a parking lot.

    2. What if self-driving cars makes travel by car even more popular? Wouldn’t that lead to more traffic congestion?

    Because net car ownership will actually be down, traffic congestion will also be down. Also, self driving cars will be smart enough to redistribute to alternate routes and avoid traffic.

    3. How much will the average autonomous vehicle car cost?

    Tesla’s Model 3 will be $35,000 before incentives, and $28,000 after. Federal incentives will also net you a $7,500 income tax credit.

    4. Will humans still be allowed to drive?

    Depends on what decisions the USDOT makes. Considering how regressive this country is, it will be a really long transition period.

    5. If not, who pays to get all of us into autonomous vehicles?

    We pay, or we walk. Same as today.

    6. Why should we believe that humans will give up driving?

    Because driving is less convenient. Car enthusiasts can drive for leisure if they want.

    7. If only self-driving cars were allowed on the road, how would that impact the number of car fatalities in the country?

    Self driving cars respond instantly to events on the road, in contrast to slow human reflexes. In addition, self driving cars will also simultaneously be communicating with each other so there will be minimal to no accidents between cars.

    8. Safety is the reason most-often given for developing self-driving cars. Are there any studies that show if there are greater safety gains to be had from greater enforcement of traffic laws versus self-driving laws?

    Enforcement will just cost more money and will continue to do nothing to convince people to drive properly. Penalties have not stopped people from driving drunk or texting while driving. Self driving cars will automatically follow laws and regulations without question.

    9. How much faster or slower will autonomous vehicles be than current vehicles?

    Same speed. Again, impacts will be minimized just from using the sensors and from communicating with other self driving cars.

    10. Why is an autonomous bus better than one with a driver?

    The benefits of self driving cars (sensors and safety) and the cost savings of eliminating personnel. Metro spends billions on payroll and even a small reduction would be very helpful for the bottom line.

    11. If I go out and get stupid drunk, can I still ride alone in my autonomous vehicle?

    Yes, because you are not operating machinery. The vehicle is doing all the work.

    12. If I go out and get stupid drunk, can I still ride in an on demand autonomous vehicle with other on demand riders?

    Yes. Uber does this today. If you don’t want to share, then request a personal vehicle.

    13. If I get drunk and barf in an on demand autonomous vehicle, who knows to clean it up before the next passengers get in?

    Sensors.

    14. Will the software that guides autonomous vehicles be better in some brands than others?

    Yes.

    15. Reassure me that the software in (for example) a German-made BMW will communicate well with the software in a (for example) Chinese-made Volvo S60. And reassure me that the software will not be using Google Translate when it comes time to say “you go first.”

    Ignorant and racist statement. The industry will be regulated just like today. Do you see cars in America with controls solely in Japanese? No, you don’t.

    16. How do we know that such on demand vehicles will lead to lower rates of vehicle ownership?

    Self driving vehicles on demand is more convenient and affordable. People will not have to spend on maintenance, repairs, recharging or worry about parking spaces.

    17. If I own a self-driving car, will the cost of my auto insurance go down?

    Insurance companies are currently preparing to abolish their auto insurance arms as there will no longer be much of a market for it.

    18. Will self-driving cars and buses and ride hailing and ride sharing be so good that they gut the need for old-timey fixed bus and train routes?

    Self driving cars are not meant to replace mass transit. Like Uber has done, self driving vehicles on demand will work to supplement transit. On demand cars will serve as an affordable first-mile, last-mile solution.

    • Thanks for the answers. I disagree with many of them. Yes, self-driving cars will likely be able to drive closer together — but how much more capacity does that eke out of road system? You didn’t answer. As for the enforcement issue, look at drunk driving: the number of fatalities from drunk driving has dropped by roughly half since 1980, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (who use federal data), a drop that is almost certainly in part due to greater enforcement and heavier fines.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source
      Editor, The Source

  4. What happens when the computer crashes, something that has always been a problem at the MTA in both buses and trains as well as BOC and fare boxes.