Autonomous Cars? But I Like Driving

Imagine you’re sitting in a fully operational self-driving car. Two things are happening: You’re sitting and waiting. The car’s in full control. You have nothing to do but sit and watch, and that can get boring fast. Driving a car stimulates the body. We’re using our senses, paying attention, and focused on what’s going on around us. If a robot does all the work then we’re left finding something else to do, and I know you know that’s most likely checking social media or playing a game on our phone. It’s an easy way of passing time. What I find more interesting in all of this though is not the car driving itself, but the things we like about driving that will die off.

It’s estimated that when self-driving cars become commonplace, car crashes will reduce by 90%. Almost all autonomous cars today are in the testing phase. Companies like Ford, BMW, Toyota, Tesla, and even Apple are investing millions of dollars into shaping and refining the technology. Most of which are trying to get fully autonomous cars on the market by 2020. The biggest benefit autonomous driving provides is the better safety. 391,000 people were injured in car crashes due to distracted driving in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and all of these were human error. Let robots equipped with highly sophisticated sensors and years worth of research take over, and the benefits are endless.

When I drive I like paying attention to the scenery. The trees, buildings, skyline, and everything in-between. Studies have shown that being surrounded by nature helps reduce stress and increase general well being. The University of Michigan conducted a study in 2008 to test the effect nature has on cognitive ability. There were two groups of participants. Every participant was given a 35-minute memory test involving repeating back random numbers in reverse to the experimenter. One group of participants walked down a busy city street, while the other around an arboretum. When these groups got back they repeated the test. The people who walked amongst nature saw a 20% improvement in short term memory versus the city walkers who saw almost no improvement.

Like the Michigan University study I talked about earlier; I believe driving through nature has the same effect as walking through it. Increased well being, reduced stress, and improved memory. I’m fortunate to drive through nature every day, so I enjoy driving most of the time, but for others, this largely depends on location and time of day. I’ve driven through the city many times during rush hour. Not fun. you don’t have time to look at nature, in fact, it’s dangerous. There is a pattern happening here. Self-driving cars are best suited for cities. The reduced stress and anxiety will be enormous, and I think almost everyone won’t mind letting a robot takeover.

Some companies like Alphabet’s Waymo are looking to release cars without steering wheels, pedals, or any apparatus used for manually driving. That sounds like a death trap, to be honest. Being inside a machine that’s driving upwards of 70 mph, I would feel a little uneasy. If you’re going that fast and a deer runs out in front of you, would you let the car use its algorithms to calculate the best move, or let your instinct make the better judgment? There’s a fine line here that will certainly be debated in the coming years as these cars start rolling out.

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