I use the “autopilot” feature on my Tesla every day, and, as I do, I ask myself, “Could this car drive itself?” I don’t think so. I predict that over time, the automotive industry will abandon talk of totally self-driving cars and use what they’ve learned to make driving safer — with drivers always behind the wheel.
Every day I encounter situations that no software, however much improved, could handle. For example:
* Avoiding a cat or other small animal that darts across the street.* Recognizing rough pavement and choosing the best path through or around it.
* Executing an alternate merge when two lanes reduce to a single lane by effectively anticipating other drivers’ actions.
* Making the right decision — ditch vs. median — when a wrong-way driver suddenly comes toward you.
* Moving left or slowing down, as required by law, when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle.
* Avoiding debris or potholes, especially debris that has just fallen off a vehicle you are following.
These are only a few of countless unforeseeable situations that we as drivers encounter every time we get behind the wheel.
Proponents of self-driving cars point out that 90% or more of accidents are the result of human error and say that computers could do better. Computers aren’t distracted like we are — no phones, no snacking, no radio adjustments, no texting, no looking at passengers or scenery. But the answer is not to replace us as drivers but to keep improving the assistance we are already getting, such as adaptive cruise control and emergency braking, but we should never take our hands off the wheel.
Not to be overlooked is whether or not passengers will feel safe and secure in a driverless automobile. Planes fly themselves, but pilots stay at the controls.