Have you ever wondered what it would be like if no one had to drive anymore? What if everyone could focus all their attention on emails and text messages while their cars took them to their destinations? This could become a reality in the next five to seven years with the invention of Google’s driverless car, but the prototype has some advantages and disadvantages. Since the cars use GPS, radar, and laser ranging technologies, users simply plug in their desired destination and the car takes over from there.
However, what happens if humans abuse the technology?
Imagine driving down a busy street lined with shopping centers when you notice two masked men running from a nearby watch and jewelry store. They get into their car and speed off down the road. Police arrive to the scene quickly. However, just as they are about to begin their pursuit, two unmanned, driverless cars whoosh past them at dizzying speeds and run straight into a busy red light intersection. This results in a multi car pile-up accident that stops the police in their tracks. Just as the thieves have planned, their pre-programmed driverless cars helped them in their getaway.
This scenario might seem extreme, but it could easily become reality if driverless cars are released onto the market in the next five years. A report done by the FBI concludes that driverless cars “will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon than it is today.”
What this means is that criminals could override systems in place to protect drivers and pedestrians from accidents. Users could manipulate the features, telling the car to ignore speed limits, traffic lights, other cars on the road, and even pedestrians. While the developers of these cars believe that accident rates will significantly decrease by eliminating careless driver errors, the FBI must think of possible scenarios in which these cars could instead be used as weapons. Even though most drivers would never think of using the cars as weapons, all scenarios have to be discussed before the cars are released into the marketplace.
In a high speed car chase, for example, police officers noted that criminals would now have both hands free to fire at pursuant police cars. However, tracking down the car would be easier due to advanced tracking devices on vehicles. A driverless police car could control how far back they drive from the suspect in order to avoid detection, and could even intentionally make opposite turns at intersections to trick the suspect, only to meet up with the suspect at another intersection, according to an FBI report.
Another scenario the FBI has thought about extensively is the fact that bombers could easily program cars to become “self-driving bombs.” Even though the cars would eliminate human error and be able to control the environment much more efficiently, people always take advantage of technology and learn to master it to fit their own personal agenda. FBI must take this into consideration and think about all possible outcomes when the cars become mainstream commodities. Other scenarios to consider include: bank robbers trying to evade the scene and ignoring stop lights in the process, drivers attempting to race the cars and programming them to violate the speed laws, drivers overriding the technology so that the car drives too close to other cars, and general carelessness exhibited by the car, but programmed by the driver. With the introduction any new technology there will always be people who will want to push its limits and test the cars’ capabilities.
While developers of driverless cars still have a lot of work to do before the cars’ release to the market, the cars still are believed to offer many benefits to driver safety in the future. Cars would be able to avoid ambulances much easier, and driver carelessness or inattentiveness would not be as much of an issue. Overall, police officers and other emergency personnel have great expectations for what roads will look like in five to seven years.
Finally, if all goes as expected, car insurance rates are predicted to plummet as car accidents become a thing of the past. Let’s just hope the FBI work out all the bugs by then!