When it comes to the two biggest punchlines in transportation jokes, nothing beats jetpacks and flying cars. Today, people still laugh at the idea of flying cars, but some are starting to think that flying cars are a possibility. The ride-sharing company Uber has plans to have a flying car service in place in New York City by 2022 that would shuttle customers back and forth between Manhattan and JFK International Airport.
In all fairness, Uber’s plan focuses on small helicopter-like vehicles that run on electricity and not the flying cars we all imagined. However, the fact is that Uber believes it can put a flying transportation system in place for daily use in five years or less, and no one is doubting the company can do it. What about self-driving cars? Are we heading into an era where we just tell our car where we want to go and the car does the driving? Technology is headed that way, but the initial implementation of the idea of self-driving cars is going to depend on ride sharing more than individual drivers.
New York City Set To Be The Home Of Self-Driving Cars
While companies such as Google are testing their self-driving cars in places like the California desert, it seems that just about every car company has its sights set on New York City as the place to test out self-driving cars. The reason is because New York City is a large city with a low percentage of personal car owners. People in New York City use public transportation and ride sharing a lot, and it looks like ride sharing is where self-driving cars will get their start.
While self-driving cars are a reality right now, they don’t meet the classic definition of what people would expect self-driving cars to be. There are two primary types of self-driving cars; semi-autonomous and fully autonomous. Semi-autonomous cars are the type we see now that can park themselves, go safely in reverse, and monitor safe lane changes for drivers. These are the kinds of vehicles manufacturers such as BMW and Google plan on putting on New York City streets in the next three to five years.
Fully autonomous cars are vehicles that require absolutely no interaction from the driver, and these are projected to be a long way off. However, as it stands semi-autonomous cars with drivers behind the wheel are racking up personal injury lawsuits. This is causing manufacturers to make sure the technology is proven completely safe before putting their products on the road. As with any other type of new technology, product liability dictates when the product will be available to the public.
The Future Of Renting Semi-Autonomous Vehicles
Some manufacturers envision a time when self-driving cars will be available for people to rent by the mile. The driver will pick up a car at a designated spot, and then park it at a specified parking lot close to their destination. These vehicles will have all of the semi-autonomous features that vehicles have now, but with extra features for tracking the vehicle and making sure passengers do not have to do too much of the driving.
Other manufacturers want to use the concept of groups sharing rides on self-driving vehicles to possibly replace taxis and maybe even decrease the need for public transportation. The belief is that private car ownership, especially in large cities, will soon be a thing of the past and that sharing rides in self-driving vehicles is the way of the future.
Self-Driving Car Accidents And Lawsuits
The start of the self-driving car industry has been rocky, and it has even involved a death. In 2016, Joshua Brown put his self-driving car on autopilot and settled back to watch a Harry Potter movie. When the vehicle had reached 60 miles per hour, manufacturer Tesla says that the sensors on the vehicle were confused by the bright sunlight and drove Brown through the trailer of a 16-wheeler. Brown died, and a flurry of Tesla Model X vehicle problems started to be made public.
In the ensuing investigation, federal investigators cleared Tesla of any liability because of the multiple warnings about how to properly use the self-driving feature in the owner’s manual. The car itself also gives a warning when the driver is engaging the self-driving feature that indicates that the driver should still stay in control of the vehicle. Brown’s family also lost a subsequent lawsuit it filed against Tesla.
In January 2017, actor Ji Chang Son posted pictures of his Model X crashed through the wall of his home. The actor says he was pulling into his parking garage when his self-driving car suddenly took off and smashed into the wall. After posting pictures of the incident, Son filed a liability lawsuit against Tesla. The precedent set in the first lawsuit against Tesla is that drivers are still responsible for their vehicles, even when the self-driving feature is engaged. But in the case of Son, the car appears to have malfunctioned and now the courts will have to deal with the idea that the same thing could happen on a busy road.
The idea of self-driving vehicles could be a tough sell to insurance companies, municipalities, and customers. Insurance companies envision self-driving cars as being the keys to a lot of personal injury lawsuits, while municipalities are having a tough time determining what kinds of laws would need to be in place to adjust to a world without drivers.
As for consumers, the idea that no one is driving can be unnerving. People like to see someone behind the wheel as a way to have peace of mind. Others may not like the idea of always having to share a ride wherever they go. But when you live in the big city, sometimes the idea of having privacy has its limits.