Is India Ready For Driverless Cars?

Give Wings To Your Imagination!!!

Imagine getting into your favourite car, giving instructions to your vehicle’s interface by typing or speaking, and then letting it drive you to your destination while you watch a movie on i-pod, read a book, or do internet surfing. While reading this, you might be thinking that here I am discussing a plot of a new Bollywood movie, just like “Tarzan: The Wonder Car”, in which the car was self-driven. But let me bring you back from the world of movies to the real world, where it will soon going to happen. Driverless cars or self-driving cars—the stuff of science fiction are coming. In such cars, front-facing seats would merely be a beautiful feature rather than a necessity. The angry morning commuters stuck in traffic would be replaced by happy passengers of driverless cars. These cars will change what it’s like to get from Point 1 to Point 2. But, will driverless cars be safe to deploy? Are we ready to share roads with them? Let’s find out answers.

Basic Technology Already in Use

The building blocks of driverless cars have been in the world for years. For several years, front-crash prevention systems have been able to warn drivers in case of any obstacle in the way. Then these systems were followed by technology, facilitating self-parking by cars, with the driver only controlling accelerators and brake. The first big development in fully autonomous cars is due in 2017 when Google Inc. would come up with an integrated system. Various auto giants, such as Toyota, BMW, and General Motors are also developing self-driving cars.

Benefits of Driverless Cars 

From the guy that haphazardly overtook your car yesterday to the driver who stopped his vehicle abruptly on the road without any signal, there probably isn’t a single person reading this article who doesn’t have a list of drivers which they don’t want to see on roads. India’s killer roads claimed the lives of 75,000 people last year. In most of the cases, it was caused by the carelessness of drivers. Computer-controlled cars could lead to more efficient driving, resulting in less pollution. Even Mr Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said: “In the future, human-driven cars may become illegal”. While it may be too early to agree with his statement, self-driving cars may curb accidents to a great extent. A computer doesn’t get distracted, drunk and take unnecessary risks. No wonders, KPMG, the consulting firm, has predicted that by 2030, driverless vehicles will save over 2500 lives and prevent more than 25,000 severe accidents per year on roads of Britain.

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At the time of announcing its driverless car project in October 2010, Google said, “One of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”

Today, driverless cars have become legal in some states of USA, like California, Nevada and Florida. These cars will come equipped with all latest technologies and equipment. These equipments would be able to figure out whether a parking space is sufficient for the car or not. Even they would keep a safe distance from other vehicles plying on the road. Makers of these cars have claimed that such cars are safe and highly useful for visually impaired and handicapped people. These cars will also create options for ride sharing and thus, promote environmental friendly atmosphere. It could mean revitalised suburbs as long commuting would become easy.

Some Lingering Concerns

Although Google’s self-driven cars have not yet officially had any major accident, people are sceptical about how computer errors may endanger lives on roads. Further, sensors of these cars may not be able to cope with harsh weather conditions. In August 2011, one of Google’s cars met with an accident, but the company said it was being piloted by a human driver at the time of the incident.

Further, there are many aspects of driving which depend on analytical skills. Would a driverless car slow down while crossing schools and markets? There are many such situations for which you need a human brain to think. Also, the question of legal responsibility is a big issue that needs to be addressed. Who is responsible for an accident in case of a self-driving car? Of course, technology also commits mistakes. If the computer breaks down or a hacker intrudes the system, it could lead to devastating results. While the chances of human error may decline, these cars could be hijacked by terrorists.

Impact On Car Insurance

Currently, insurance companies settle claims in case of an accident. However, when there is no one behind the wheel to take responsibility, who will be held responsible? Perhaps the car manufacturer could be held responsible and not the insurer.

Further, insurance companies charge premiums on the basis of various parameters, such as driver’s profile, IDV of the car, and claim history. With driverless cars, there could be fewer accidents, which means, customers with a record of safe driving could negotiate for a lower premium.

Will Car Insurers Survive Their Clash With Self-Driving Cars?

Undoubtedly, car insurance will exist in a driverless car era also. While the number of accidents may fall, it may be expensive to replace the damaged parts due to their complexity. Further, even if you don’t crash into someone else, someone else might bump into you. Also, the risk of theft can’t be ruled out even in case of self-driving cars. Further, these cars can also get flooded or stolen. So, it will be a long time before anyone could think of giving up car insurance.

The Bottom Line

Although the full adoption of driverless cars will take time, their cost, convenience, safety and other factors will surely make them pervasive and inevitable. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

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