Why driverless cars will screech to a halt

“Forget cures for cancer, climate change or world peace, the media has made it clear that self-driving cars will be the Next Great Step in civilization’s drive toward magnificence,” Steven Hill writes for Observer. “It’s time to hit the brakes for a reality check.”

“Despite how much Uber CEO Travis Kalanick likes to crow about our ‘driverless future,’ outside of The Jetsons this one is… not… happening… soon,” Hill writes. “Besides the remaining technological challenges, the liability and regulatory issues involved in letting a 3,000-pound death machine steer itself with no human at the controls are huge.”

“Think about it: Every driver makes hundreds of daily driving decisions that, strictly speaking, break driving laws (for example, crossing the yellow line to pull around a double-parked vehicle). It all works out fine because of something called ‘human judgment,'” Hill writes. “But what company is going to program its driverless cars to break the law? And what regulators will approve that product, knowing that it has been programmed to break the law?”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Thank you, Steven.

Apple vs. Google in self-driving cars: To map or not to map? – March 6, 2015


  1. In 1995, when analog cell phones were used, if someone said to you, “In 20 years, everyone including 1st graders will have a cell phone, and they’ll video chat (Facetime) and shoot HD Videos”, etc., you would have said, “Get off the crack, man” . . . And guess what, you would be right–because we don’t have analog cell phones today — analog phones were a predecessor (like neanderthals), but a whole lot of digital innovation followed that time . . . similarly, in 20 years, we will look back at the original Google autonomous cars as “quaint” (Thank you, Scotty) . . . it’s the germ of an idea, but whatever follows will be a whole new platform, that we can’t fully imagine . . . excuse me, I have to get my cell phone back from the kid . . . .

    1. am so sick with America’s and Silicon Valley’s obsession with self-driving cars.

      -A lot of people probably DON’T want nor need a self-driving car. People have the freedom to be in control and also can enjoy driving. Also being in control can be better (quick change of direction, Sunday drive, shortcuts, etc.)
      -Anyone who thinks cars will drive themselves with no human required is a complete idiot. We’ve had “self-driving” airplanes for decades, but at least 2 pilots are required to pilot the aircraft. Even with this technology lots of manual overrides occur all of the time, like with dealing with turbulance, busy runways, take off and landing, approaches, etc. A road full of cars and people is EXTREMELY challenging and self-driving cars without human intervention is way far into the future. Not happening. Just watch the YouTube videos of Teslas auto-pilot to see cars about to crash with the driver just barely able to recover the car.

      This is all absurd. People don’t need this. What they need is the basics. And that primarily is a car that is electric that has long range and costs something reasonable. These latter are the biggest problems to solve in the auto industry, not self-driving.

      Self-driving mode is simply a feature that will be able to be turned on and off, nothing more.

      And people really get way too geeky about this. We’ve had self-driving cars for decades. It’s called cruise control and it works well. If you’re that much of a geek that you need a car to change drive you in other respects, then have fun with that. But that won’t happen for a long time yet anyway.

      1. “A lot of people probably DON’T want nor need a ABCD.”

        I am pretty sure that almost every product that ever existed short of a cure for polio could have been described like this for most people.

        But a new generation will:
        – Love being able to use drive times for online activity, whether that is work, play, reading, watching, or communicating.
        – Love the safety of cars that communicate with cars (making the law less important than car-to-car communication in unusual situations)
        – Love not having to own a car because they can Uber it and its dirt cheap because there is no driver to pay.
        – Love being able to Uber the kind of car they want for the activity they have. (Going to work, vs. bar hopping with friends).
        – Love not having to worry about getting gas, car maintenance, car insurance, etc.

        Three changes are coming in tandom:
        – Self-driving cars
        – Car sharing (i.e. car hiring / calling)
        – Electric cars

        All three together will completely change how people view transportation. Simply saying “people don’t know they want that” means nothing. How many people knew they needed a Mac before they saw one? How many people knew they needed an iPhone before they saw one? Very few.

        1. You make a whole bunch of assumptions. The biggest is that people will not want to drive and have a car drive them. This assumption is UNVERIFIED. There is ZERO evidence to support it.

          Second, if you think that cars will be able to drive us where we can sit there like a drone and watch Netflix, you’re delusional. I’ve studied robotics for many years and autonomy is at this point impossible. We cannot make things that can be autonomous in the world (quick judgements, etc.). It is still well beyond our science. Current self-driving technology is a gimmick only used in more controlled conditions.

          Self-driving is a speculative feature that is nothing more than a feature. People will be required and mandated to be in the care or control of the vehicle at all times, ready to take control.

          Even if and when self-driving becomes a practical reality (long way out), there is ZERO evidence that people will find it better than manually driving.

          When it comes to your Orwellian, dramatic comment about car sharing, stop with the nonsense. I live in Vancouver which has had a huge car sharing network for many years. Car to Go. Modo. Evo by BCAA. And others. There are thousands of cars spread throughout the lower mainland. One is usually always near where you are. After 6 years of relying on car sharing, I bought a new car and stopped using them.

          -Got tired of having to search for and book a car every time;
          -Got tired of having to walk to get the car, sometimes in shady parking lots, then bring it back to load it with hockey gear or whatever;
          -Got tired of having to return it or having to extend the booking because things are taking longer;
          -It ended up making little financial sense. I was spending at least $300 per month on the fees and I wasn’t even using it that much.

          I could go on. Car sharing may have the opposite effect of what you state and predict: it may drive people to want to have their own car. And self-drivig may also have the opposite effect: it may push people to want more control and drive manually.

    2. Thank god I’m old enough to want to drive because it’s fun. Also thankful that I’m old enough when I won’t be stopped from driving in lieu of making me accept a computer-driven car.
      I love tech, and I usually am right there wanting to be part of it, but this one you can have. If all you want to do is work on your way to work, then I could see it being good for you. I still like the act of driving…

  2. No one has answered how a self-driving car will handle driving in a white out, fog or rainstorm in near zero visibility or driving on snow, slush and black ice, which I’ve done safely, but again, by not following the rules.

    Then comes the incapable driver who doesn’t know what or how to drive the car when a human has to take over. And what happens when it is a 10 year old that is going to take over?

    I understand the allure of challenges to the techno-noobs to design something complex, just because they think it is neat, but I am not convinced that it will be worth it for society.

    The other side of this situation is the reliability of all the components. With a failure of a key sensor or component, you are back in the shop again. Do we want a vehicle like that?

    1. For every death caused by a driverless car, theres probably thousands of lives saved because of no distracted drivers texting, no drunk driving, no teens racing each other at 100mph.

      While there are things to overcome, it is the future

    2. >No one has answered how a self-driving car will handle driving in a white out, fog or rainstorm in near zero visibility

      Driverless cars have visual capabilities that far exceed the human eye. They can see through fog, rain and darkness. Your eyes cannot. Driverless cars have radar and infrared vision. Their brains are connected to GPS, maps and streetview data. They can perceive, think and react much faster than a human can.

      So congratulations on driving safely under difficult conditions, but driverless cars will do it even better than you can.

      1. In theory that is absolutely true, indeed even in practice it can be demonstrated time and again both in lab conditions and within what is seen as ‘typical use’ conditions. However as someone who has spent years studying state of the art military (mostly aviation) technology from electronic range finding and radar at Orfordness in the 30s to modern day missile targeting and engine technology one thing you find is how endlessly, predicted behaviour in technology, physical and electronic is rarely if ever repeated in practice.

        And therein lies the problem, for no matter how the figures and stats even the common sense will tell you that overall it is safer than humans from a political and legal point of view any aberration, any failing, any software or sensor error that causes an accident especially where death or serious injury occurs there is going to be a response that will need a complete change in attitude and the law governing such matters to remotely handle. That change will effectively be seen to impinge on human rights and will stimulate a massive emotional/social backlash when corporations are effectively seen as being given the right to kill or maim without the due responsibility in so doing. If the occupiers of the car are not responsible (and in maintenance terms when is that the case even) who is and for how much?

        When we take such technology for granted that can be accepted by the majority as the acceptance of the motor car did in its turn but in what is now a very sophisticated society empowered by social media I do wonder how we actually get to that state without a Government taking what would be deemed an extremist stance against the people. people are actually averse to change, but when it happens without them really knowing it in at least an adverse manner it happens, it will be extremely difficult to see how that can happen with the car unless it is done as a drip feed over a very long time. In that regard the direction being taken by the manufacturers is far more sensible than the vanity project being taken by Google which is again simply trying to be perceived as the pioneer of the future where we all wear silver suits rather than the real and practical future that involves social, legal as well as technological factors.

    3. They’ve answered the question. The answer is “For that 4 percent of the time that The AI can’t control, YOU will”

      Having non-humans make driving decisions at anything over 90% of the time will save a LOT of lives.

      1. So the continuous training that drivers need to keep their skills sharp will be how good when the failure scenario occurs and humans are called upon to suddenly demonstrate superior piloting skills?

        Technologists never take responsibility, but they are the ones who are dumbing down the human race. Just look at the generation of narcissistic Facebook idiots who can’t use their brains for more than 20 seconds at a time. Not to mention the majority of the population which is no so obese that they cannot do any sustained physical activity of any kind without power assist.

  3. Human error is a factor in 93% of car wrecks, according to the NHTSA’s 2008 National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. So while people with no vision or imagination (like Mr. Hill) will no doubt have a field day stoking fear, (not to mention the many people who profit handsomely from the automotive status quo) even the worst automated cars will be a hell of a lot better than most of the morons currently behind the wheel.

    1. That’s because our social and legal system is designed to blame the human behind the wheel. Which is the point spyinthesky is trying to make. If there is no human behind the wheel, are we going to take the vehicles AI to court for manslaughter? The manufacturer? Component suppliers? It doesn’t matter if it’s safer, there will still be accidents, and our society isn’t prepared to hold nobody accountable when people are killed, if for instance the government handed out a liability exemption to auto manufacturers the way they did gun manufacturers.

  4. Goog driverless cars..

    1) Google’s cars have been ticketed several times for driving ‘too SLOW’. They are put on road ‘tests’ driving at unrealistically slow speeds.


    “The car was stopped by a Mountain View traffic officer on the El Camino Real, a public road near Google’s main campus in California, not for breaking the speed limit or erratic driving, but for travelling 24mph ”

    2) even at those speeds they have TWICE the average number of accidents as human driven cars.

    Google says that does not matter as they were ’caused by the OTHER driver’.
    but that’s just it..
    I don’t know how many accidents I’ve avoided because of the OTHER drivers mistakes: sudden turns, going through a red light, a few weeks ago a kid ran right across in front of me as his friend was waving from the bus stop on the other side…. etc.

    When I notice a kid playing ball with an unleashed dog on the grass next to the road… i.e not even ON the road… I SLOW down.. would a Goog car know how to do this (there must be millions of similar issues)

    3) every day when I drive I notice cars WITH broken lights: front or back unfixed, cars with bald tires, etc even relatively NEW and EXPENSIVE vehicles…. now think about the finicky electronics — cameras, sensors, software etc — needed to keep a driverless car fully functional (each car costing hundred of thousands right now with hordes of Goog tech dealing with them — from the photos I see you need like a pit crew keeping each one running).

    4) We see google building a NEW Nexus phone with Huawei that breaks like a plastic twig.

    (this is AFTER they’ve been warned by internet folks that will ‘bend test’ all new phones … )

    then you think about the dead in the water Google Glass , the Google blimp that crashed and the tens of thousands of Google Nest devices recalled ( 440,000 units in one batch in 2014) ….

    so we’re going to trust them with a car ….

    5) most likely there were be drive less cars.. .but from Google? and within in NEAR future?

    1. I forgot to also talk about Google’s released data.

      (note Google is expert on HYPE, that’s one reason their stock is almost equal Apple’s although Alphabet has ONE THIRD apple’s profits. Remember hype of Goog Glass taking over the world and Schmidt saying ‘Google TV will be on most TVs by summer 2012’ …. . )

      OK back to the car…

      Google says it’s car are safe , safer than humans,
      that’s hype,
      reality as I pointed out besides unnaturally low speeds (24 mph!), most tests done on special routes they have carefully marked and surveyed etc their data also:

      (originally) did not count the accidents caused by others (my point two above)
      PLUS data not commonly released to the public is what they list as ‘failures’ i.e mech problems like sensor, communications breakdowns which they don’t consider ‘accidents’. 272 failures in one year between 2014 -2015 PLUS ‘human test driver avoided accidents ‘ i.e where Goog HUMAN drivers INTERVENED TO STOP AN ACCIDENT : 13 times in the same period ., also are what they call ‘disengagements’ — hundreds of incidents — where the car handed over to HUMAN driver (at crisis situations presumably)

      (see how Google SELECTS data)

      “However, Google admits that its drivers actually took over from their vehicles “many thousands of times” during the period. The company is reporting only 69 incidents because Google thinks California’s regulations require it only to report disengagements where drivers were justified in taking over, and not those where the car would have coped on its own”

      (Note over and over Google only released actual raw data when forced… Google i believe still refuses to disclose data from before 2014 as it says “This is the period we’re required to share with the DMV. Any data we would have from before that is just outdated” )

      I can go on but I think people get the point…

      Google is an ADVERTISING company, their bread and butter is hype, please take their Goog Car data with a big truckloads of sodium chloride…

    2. You are totally right, I have a friend who when a lot younger than now worked for a car hire firm. His employment was put in danger because he had half a dozen minor accidents causing damage to the cars he was responsible for. He said to me that none of them were his fault. Technically he may (or it may have been bravado) have been right but anyone who has 6 accidents inside a year is clearly doing something wrong. And the fact is not allowing for other drivers to have obscured vision in a busy city environment and thus anticipating those situations to avoid a potential accident entirely though in law they are technically responsible, makes you partly, even mainly at times responsible too. Only an environment in which there are no human drivers can we even start to solve that problem but even then if an autonomous car behaves unexpectedly because of a technical failing how would those other vehicles respond if the behaviour simply ‘did not compute’ to them, how would their own reaction affect suddenly a whole range of others in a mass event? Only theoretical work can truly be done on that scenario and as we find with aircraft auto pilots that often leads to unpredictable events in reality. The experts will tell us everything is covered, experience tells me that won’t be the case.

      1. “Technically he may (or it may have been bravado) have been right but anyone who has 6 accidents inside a year is clearly doing something wrong.”

        (I am glad my wife is not reading this.) . . . But she does not drive defensively – watching out for the other person’s blind spots. She was in a car wreck in which she saw the other car coming into her lane. Her response to this day is that they weren’t supposed to do that.

        To some people, it is a simple matter of right vs wrong, – not about how to avoid a wreck even IF the other person is doing wrong.

        IF my wife’s car had had the auto detect object, it would have braked when my wife didn’t (because she was in the right.) The human personality is so complex and each personality’s approach to driving (defensively or not) affects the type of reaction. Auto-detection (that can be over-ridden ) does surpass defensive driving of many people!

  5. In three years, driverless cars will be far superior to humans which, by far and away, are responsible for virtually all motor vehicle accidents. There are over 1.25m deaths caused by vehicles each year. No offense but a lot of people who claim they’re great drivers and go on about how they’ve avoided accidents and saved lives are blowing smoke.

    In 5 years you will have driverless cars without manual intervention. They don’t get tired and fall asleep, they don’t text, they don’t get distracted.

    These cars can see around corners, at night, in rain and snow and adjust accordingly.

    The tech is advancing at such a fast pace. You can live in denial. You can be comforted in your denial. That’s ok. But you’re wrong.

    Then again, you probably sided with Blackberry when everyone said Apple won’t just step in and create a great phone. That it took Blackberry 10 years to get where they are. Now where are they?

    Bonano out.

    1. Yes and we were told in the 50s that nuclear energy was 100% safe and that it would produce electricity so cheaply that it won’t even be worth metering it. Indeed we all should be flying around in nuclear aircraft and yes you got it, even be driving nuclear cars. You see there are at least two ends to such claims and there is no consistency as to which one becomes the the true one.

    2. In 5 years we will all have Google clown cars, there will be no crashes, no fatalities and we will all be safe. There will also be no fun. Then again if we reduced the speed limit to 25mph around the world and put a limiter on all vehicles, the death rate would be 1% of what it currently is. I think Danno has bought too heavily into the Google hype.
      Danno’s world reminds me of that movie Demolition Man.
      In 5 years Google will see a need to modify human behaviour, because too many people are vandalising their clown cars. A Google computer in every building will issue infraction notices when anyone swears, is violent or just acts outside of parameters set by Google.
      Danno, you are fucking dreaming, there is no fucking way a fucking stupid 25mph clown car by Google will be developed into an affordable, reliable, marketable car that can travel the speed limit and that people will buy in 5 years.
      Excuse me now, I’m off to the toilet to wipe my ass with those infraction notices.

  6. I have this great idea. Let’s create a 4,000 pound mobile machine with an engine to power it to replace the horse and buggy world we live in. Then let’s rely upon the ability of the average human to control it on a 25 foot wide surface winding through the country, with these vehicles sharing this narrow surface moving in opposing directions, just because it’s cheaper than creating two separate surfaces dedicated to one way traffic. These machines will have a top speed of 45 miles per hour, with a closing speed of 90 miles per hour as they pass one another two feet apart.

    I remember thinking as a teenager how impossible that proposition must have seemed over a hundred years ago. Ordinary people with no mechanical skills were going to learn to handle these devices without mass killing themselves on a regular basis. Yet, pretty much, they did.

    I also find the idea of self driving cars scary. However, people will want them and their political servants will find a way to deal with the liability issues. Time marches on…

    1. That is a very good point which I alluded to previously but of course people and society is totally different today. They were equally as ignorant of technology as they were powerless to do anything about it especially when it suited the powers that be. Both situations are very different today and thus you can’t simply predict one end from the other. Autonomous cars (should technological society survive long enough) will be the norm one day but like most technology we expect it to come far quicker than it actually will, for it has to surmount far more than technical problems in so doing which in this case are difficult enough and the main economic stimulus is to put commercial drivers out of a job based on cost. That itself opens a can of worms.

  7. Man can’t fly. It’s impossible to talk to someone not even in the same town let alone see them while you talk! Fly me to the moon, yea, right! Syphillus isn’t incurable. Polio will wipe out the human race. Windows will always outsell Apple OS. Gays are incapable of having long-term, loving monogamous relationships. The most valuable company in the world will always be the most profitable company in the world.

    Here’s a truism for you: Truisms aren’t truth.

  8. It seems like we keep forgetting the big picture: individual transport is taking up more and more space which forces us to build our destinations further and further apart requiring longer and more roads. Does it seem logical that we have at least one car for every human on the planet?

    My logic says that we need many busses and trains that whisk us to where we need to go like the internet groups data packages into larger groups and quickly divides them up as they near their destination. We used to use horses a century ago and many of those horses could navigate home without human intervention. At that time, people just wanted faster horses but in crowded cities like London, the huge numbers of horses on the streets slowed the pace to that of the what we face now in London with the cars ruling the streets.

    We can put driverless cars on the streets and solve all the technical challenges but we will still be left with the volume problem, the road space requirements and increasing distances between destinations.

  9. Besides the huge costs, driverless car fanboys ignore the threat to personal freedom this technology poses. Rest assured that the federal government will use this opportunity to limit you from any maneuvers that it considers illegal or dangerous. It will start with “warnings” about your driving behavior. How is it that we slam Google for invading our privacy, but are willing to transfer every detail of our driving habits to them?

    1. ” How is it that we slam Google for invading our privacy, but are willing to transfer every detail of our driving habits to them?”

      It seems more and more every day that people are actually wanting to live that way. The sheep will be come their icon.

    2. You are talking about driving as it is some expression of freedom of speech.

      Driving is an activity that people undertake (most often grudgingly) in order to transport themselves from one place to another. All they care is getting as fast as possible to their destination, safely. Letting a car do it for them means they’ll have more time to read the news during their travel (or spend it on FaceBook, or putting on makeup, or playing a game). Urban people live through this every day, using public transport (metro, subway, bus…).

      As for government limiting maneuvres, they are already doing this (haven’t you seen all those traffic signs along the highway, forbidding passing, limiting speed, prohibiting various turns, etc?).

  10. At last someone with some common sense. And to add to that conclusion we had the other day, an appalling train crash in Germany. That train and track had all sorts of electronic safety measures that on paper should never have allowed that to happen. Equally that train was on a predictable journey with but few predictable hazards to even consider being on the same track as an approaching train being the absolute main one. Not for the first time all that logic of presumed safety came to nothing in this as yet mystery circumstance. Even if it were a driver bent on going out big time and somehow overriding all electronic countermeasures it asks big, big questions. The idea of thousands (millions even) of self driving cars in immeasurably more difficult conditions autonomously interacting together on roads along with humans just is not a viable option for a long, long time.

    Its technology that yes will trickle through over time, or it will be restricted to specially constructed or modified ‘intelligent’ roads/infrastructure where considerable restrictions exist, despite it being a much more predictable environment, as per railways of course. The problem is such an environment would be horrendously expensive in both creation and maintenance, one indeed which makes the creation of a hydrogen infrastructure look like playtime with lego. And to me at least, that latter is immeasurably more important in the foreseeable future than pure autonomous cars could ever represent.

  11. Driverless cars will be child’s play for the next generation of quantum computers when they come on-line some time in the 20’s or 30’s. That is also when AI will finally get some traction. Computers millions of times faster than today’s best will create breakthroughs only dreamed of today.

  12. For starters there is nothing “smart” about driverless cars. Computers are not intelligent and they cannot think. They operate within the design constraints of their creators and the limits of the technology with which they are built.

    In an emergency situation or in the event of mechanic failure a human being is capable of making critical decisions that no computer can handle. There is no match for the computer between your ears.

    I’m all in favor of tech in vehicles to alert drivers of danger and aid drivers but I’ll never trust a fully driverless car. The aviation industry has been working in this realm for years and pilots are still needed. I expect that will remain the case with cars too.

    If we are in for a major shift in transportation then I’d wager it will be a move away from cars for the most part.

  13. Even if one does come around, it’s going to take decades to become widespread purely because people don’t replace their car with a brand new one every few years. Many, many people have never had a new car. All the talk about them seems to suggest that once one goes on sale everyone will be driving one within a year or something stupid.

    1. Hahaha. Everyone here is so scared of tech and short sighted. And Ill informed.

      Families will shift down to one vehicle at first. Urbanites won’t own vehicles. Already this is evident with ZipCar and Car2Go adoption as well as people using Uber and Lift. Taxis in New York as well. It will be much cheaper to use driverless cars than own one.

      And people quoting years old data on Google cars. Lol. There are major leaps in tech every 6 months. Most people F-up emergency situations so it’s BS assuming humans are better. Most aren’t which I witness every day in my commute.

      And there will be driverless buses and freight trucks too. Already being tested and designed. I love driving. But that doesn’t mean the switch over 10-15 years won’t happen.

  14. Certain people strap bombs around their middles so they can blow up other people. What makes you think they won’t use “driverless cars” to do the same to disrupt society? ?

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.