The driverless car may reshape much of the American driving environment in the next few decades. Some of that change may be unpleasant, as tens of thousands who work in the transport industry, from cab drivers to long-haul truck drivers, could all be replaced by autonomous vehicles.
At the same time, replacing error-prone humans from the driver's seat could save much if not all of the thousands who die in car accidents and the hundreds of thousands injured every year. And while Google and others are rapidly developing working models of autonomous vehicles, it is likely that they are still years away from full deployment on the streets and highways of southern Indiana.
Because it is unlikely they will be mandated by government, it is likely that driverless cars will have to share the road with human-guided vehicles for many years. And this is producing some of the greatest challenges faced by the developers of these vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles know how other autonomous vehicles will behave. They may even be "connected," where they communicate with each other, and could easily decide which vehicle moves first should they all arrive at a four-way stop intersection.
But if they operate in a mixed-vehicle environment, they may have difficulty applying their perfectly-programmed, rule-governed perspective to the messy and sloppy world of human drivers who may ignore traffic laws, be intoxicated or distracted.
The technology makes it almost inevitable that it will eventually come. However, the ride for the next 20 or so years may be a bit bumpy.
Source: nytimes.com, "Google's Driverless Cars Run Into Problem: Cars With Drivers," Matt Richtel, Conor Dougherty, September 1, 2015