Over 1.3 million people die each year in car accidents globally (ASIRT). 95% of these accidents are attributed to human error. Most of us like to believe we are better drivers than we actually are. I, for sure, believe that I drive safer than my friends who text and send voice notes while driving. I think I am a safer driver because I don’t text while driving, but I must confess that I use Google Maps – then I get notifications – then I get distracted. 

We see lots of laws and awareness campaigns for road safety, but we never learn. People under the influence think they aren’t drunk enough to not drive. Drivers convince themselves that attending to just one text may not be a problem. All these habits put them, other drivers and passengers, and pedestrians at fatal risks.

But guess who (or what) doesn’t get drunk, distracted, or drowsy? A Self-Driving Car! This article presents four advantages of self-driving cars that will get you eager to own one.

1. Self-Driving Cars Are Safer

Self-Driving Cars are the best solution to road safety. With all the sensors and cameras around them, self-driving cars sense the whole environment and make decisions. Waymo – Google’s Self-Driving branch – put out cars in the streets of Phoenix, USA, which have 29 cameras around them, both short-range and long-range. These sensors can identify cars, pedestrians, and stop signs from 500m away. Do humans have such a strong vision?

Most self-driving cars are equipped with LiDARs (Light Detection And Ranging). A LiDAR is basically a laser that shoots infrared rays on objects and determines their size and location by computing the time it takes for the laser beam to reflect back. By shooting multiple laser beams in 360o over a few seconds, the car can trace out the entire environment around it, as shown in the image below. The car can thus make better decisions based on what it “sees.”

ITS America Webinar Showcases How Lidar-Based Solutions Can Increase  Pedestrian Safety | Business Wire
Reconstruction Of The Environment From LiDAR Data

Most of the top self-driving car companies implement the LiDAR system for their cars to see. But Tesla adopts a more human-like approach for their cars. They use cameras. There are eight cameras providing 360o view to the car. The machine learning algorithms label the objects the car sees through these cameras, such as lanes, cars, pedestrians, stop signs, trees, etc. Both cameras and LiDARs provide 360o vision to their cars which already makes them better than human drivers who can only look at one direction at once.

Furthermore, self-driving cars are (will) also equipped with machine learning software that not only labels objects around them, but also predicts the future behavior of the objects. These algorithms can predict if a neighboring car will get into your lane, if a pedestrian will continue walking in the green light, if a car at the intersection will stop, etc. Based on these predictions, the car can make safer and quicker decisions than an average driver.

2. Reduce Or Eliminate Traffic Jams

Think of the situation when you are the 7th or the 8th car at the traffic queue. You see the traffic light turns green, but you can’t move. The car in front of you doesn’t move. After some delay, the car in front starts accelerating. You also start moving, but as you get closer to the signal, the green lights start blinking. You think you can make it before it turns red, but alas, the light turns red, and you are the first in the queue. Had the cars in front accelerated a bit faster, you could have made it.

But do you know what would be a better way to make it? If all the cars accelerated at the same time, with the same rate, at the same time when the lights turned green, you would have made it in no time. Only self-driving cars can achieve this level of coordination.

Intersections are one of the common areas of heavy traffic. Drivers do their best not to give way to the cars coming from other directions. At some point, the cars in one direction remain stagnant. The frustrated drivers at the back, only to make matters worse, try to overtake other cars and create another lane, and that lane again merges with the original lane creating a massive traffic jam. If all the cars or the majority of the cars on the road are autonomous, they can inter-communicate and make accurate decisions about when to accelerate and when to let the other car pass.

Highways are supposed to have roads with less traffic, but humans have managed to jam the most widest highways as well. As I lived most of my life in Qatar, I can count the days I have not been on the highway traffic. In highways, when the driver in front slows down to change lanes, exit highways, or God-forbid falls asleep, the person behind that car also has to slow down – the one behind that also slows – and the one behind that slows down and so on, like a ripple effect.

The ideal way to avoid this scenario is to drive at the same speed at equidistant from the front and the rear car with enough space in between for cars to switch lanes, slow down, and exit highways without creating a ripple effect. Who (or what) can determine such an optimal distance, speed, and acceleration? Humans is the wrong answer. Inter-communicating self-driving cars is the right answer.

3. Fewer Cars In A Household (Or City)

I lived in a household with two cars – one for dad and the other for me. My dad wakes up in the morning and drives to his work. An hour or two later, I wake up and drive to the university campus. If we had one self-driving car, it could drop my father at work, come back home, and drop me at the campus. My mother is a homemaker who typically stays at home. She relies on dad or me to drive her to places. But, after dropping me, the self-driving car could come back home and drive my mom for the whole day. Thus, everyone in the household could share one car conveniently.

Instead of one household, perhaps two (or three) families could share ownership of one car. The more individuals share a car; there will be fewer cars in the street, consequently reducing traffic congestion and environmental problems. This will also reduce the financial burden on people owning a car by sharing the cost of car loans and maintenance.

3. Convenience For The Disabled

Self-Driving Cars can also provide the most convenient way of commute to the disabled. For example, a blind person depends on his/her caretaker, family members, or public transport to drive him/her to work. With autonomous cars, they could commute to places independently.

4. Do Errands

You can also make your autonomous car run errands. One day, my friend realized that he left his items in my car the previous night. He needed the items urgently, but I couldn’t get out of home, nor did he have his car. If my car was autonomous, I could have simply sent it to his location. He would then take his items, and the car would drive itself back to my place. Similarly, you could send your self-driving car to pick up items from the store, food from restaurants, and children from school. You could also send your pet to the veterinary.

Not only can you make it run errands, but you can also perhaps earn some side income from it. Here is one example I thought of – when you drive to work, you park your car and go to your office. What does the car do while it’s parked from 9-5? Nothing. But, if your car is self-driving, you could make it work as a taxi to pick up and drop off passengers while you are at your office. That’s some good money you can earn by doing nothing extra. Perhaps, in the future, companies like Uber and Lyft will allow you to register your car with them.

Concluding Remarks

By the time you reached this point of the article, over 15 people have died on roads. The more time we delay launching autonomous cars, the longer we are putting ourselves in a worse situation. Road accidents cost countries around 2-8% of their GDP. Self-Driving Cars, in their full potential, will immensely save lives, reduce traffic, save the environment, save time, and improve the economy. It only makes sense for governments to support the launch of these vehicles.

If you own a self-driving car, what would you make it do while you are sitting at work?


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