Self-driving cars: What could go wrong?

I saw this headline in my morning paper, and I was so excited that drinking and driving would no longer be a problem.  It is another wonderful piece by Washington Post writers, headlined "Liquor industry is pushing to get self-driving cars on the road."

Inherent in their support, analysts say, is an understanding that self-driving cars could revolutionize the way Americans drink.  Brewers and distillers say autonomous vehicles could reduce drunk driving.

Without the need to drive home after a night at the bar, drinkers could consume far more.  That would boost alcohol sales, one analysis predicts, by as much as $250 billion.

While the Washington Post stenographers didn't seem to have any questions, I have some:

Will the roads be safer if a bunch of drunks program their self-driving cars?  I am sure there will be no programming errors.

Will the bar-owners, bartenders, and waitresses check to see which drinkers are in self-driving cars and which are not?  I assume they will have different rules for each, and they will cut off each based on those rules.

Will these heavy drinkers who will spend an extra $250 billion have the money to buy the expensive cars with all the cameras, computers, and batteries?

Will the self-driving cars be able to get in the driveways, garages, parking garages, and parking spaces and then get the drunks in their houses safely?

How will the insurance companies price the risk for drunks even when they won't be driving, but just programming?

A Google prototype for a self-driving car.  Credit: Marc van der Chijs via Flickr.

I continually read about the panacea of self-driving cars and how many lives they will save, but I rarely read of potential problems, of which I perceive many.

The human brain is a magnificent invention that can perform thousands of functions at the same time.  Sometimes people make mistakes.  I cannot imagine that the brains that create the self-driving cars won't also make mistakes.

I believe that it will almost be impossible to program cars and trucks so they can handle black ice and whiteout conditions of blizzards.

I do not believe they can be programmed to handle rapidly changing conditions of hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooded roads.

I am pretty sure the GPS cannot be programmed to navigate unmarked roads and driveways.

Will they be able to continually dodge potholes and small animals or objects on the road?

I personally enjoy driving and hope to drive as long as I can reasonably safely.  When I am old and unable to drive safely, I doubt if I will be capable of programming a self-driving vehicle, and I probably won't be able to afford one anyway.

I hope to never be confronted with having to ride in a vehicle with no driver.  I am glad to ride in trams or self-driving elevators that are on tracks, but getting in the back seat where there is no driver would never make me comfortable.

The advocates for self-driving vehicles say how safe they will be and that they might save 30,000 lives per year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88,000 people die each year from binge-drinking.

Drinking too much can harm your health.  Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.  Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years.  The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.

The majority of journalists today just go along with agendas and write what they are told without question.  Whether it is climate change caused by humans or self-driving cars, they rarely show any curiosity.  Think of how young people would die if we got rid of fossil fuels.  It's time to get some better answers from the press about self-driving cars. 

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