Ontario allows testing of driverless cars on provincial roads, but there still needs to be a human operator with a valid driver’s licence who can take over in case of problems.
Driverless vehicles on the road will also need to carry $5 million in liability insurance. These vehicles will be allowed on all public roads in the province, including the 400-series highways.
Whether this is good or bad is up for debate.
Some of the reported benefits include:
Reduced collisions: Almost every car crash is the result of driver error — speeding, driving while drunk, distracted driving, and so on. A driverless car eliminates driver error and will almost certainly lead to fewer collisions.
Eases traffic congestions: Anyone driving around Toronto will appreciate the reduced congestion that will come with driverless cars. No more erratic driving, unexplained stopping or slowing. Further, with fewer or no collisions, no need for “rubber necking” by vehicles passing a crash scene.
Reduced need for parking: Once driverless cars are allowed to operate without a human operator, the cars could drop a person off at a destination and return to the starting place. Or, if the stop is short, continue driving around until the person needs to be picked up.
Increased productivity: In Ontario, the average person spends about 60 minutes commuting to work each day. A driverless car would not only likely reduce the overall commuting time but would also allow the person to be productive during the commute.
There are some potential drawbacks and concerns with the driverless car:
Potential for technology to go wrong: Everyone has experienced IT woes, when your computer should work but for some unexplained reason all you see is the “blue screen of death”. The consequences of a technology failure of a driverless car could be catastrophic, resulting in serious injury or death.
Difficult transition: If the driverless car catches on in Ontario, there will be a transition period with driverless cars sharing the road with human operators. Human drivers have established certain patterns that many of us rely on when driving. For example, very few vehicles drive at the 100 km/hr speed limit on the 400-series highways. The mix of driverless cars and human drivers could potentially lead to more problems.
Loss of privacy: Using a driverless car means a third party would have the opportunity to track all of your movements in the car. Because your driverless car would be receiving or communicating with data centres, your location would be potentially accessible to people or organizations who could hack into the network.
Loss of individuality: A car is more than just a means of transportation. Many people choose vehicles to express their individuality. The Google Car is plain and boring. If driverless cars become mandatory, we would lose the thrill of driving. I for one still choose to drive a manual stick shift even though an automatic is more convenient. A driverless car is one more step in giving up more control.
Overall, I welcome the initiative. I can see the massive benefits, particularly with reducing the number of injuries and deaths on our roads. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done before driverless cars will become mainstream.
Originally Published: January 4, 2018