Google takes aim at how we drive

For years Google has been working on and developing a self-driving car. Last week it revealed how this new transportation vehicle is going to look and an idea of how it will operate. The prototype has no steering wheel or gas and brake pedals and the current model reaches a maximum speed of about 40 kilometers an hour. The car is not going to win any style awards:

BONN - Google Car

The driverless car has two significant potential benefits, 1) increased mobility for seniors and people with disabilities and 2) dramatically reduce the number of collisions.

The “car” has buttons that a passenger (there is no driver, only passengers) presses to begin and end the ride. The passenger sets the route by identifying the destination on a map or by using voice commands. The vehicle is outfitted with sensors and cameras mounted on the roof that allows it to analyze what surrounding cars are doing and react accordingly. Other than pressing the start button and inputting the destination, the vehicle drives itself without the need for any human operation. For seniors and those suffering with disabilities the driverless car would allow them to be more independent and mobile. This type of vehicle would go a long way in restoring some independence.

Another significant advantage would be increased road safety. The most recent Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (OSAR) 2010, reports that in Ontario in 2010 there were:

  • 215,533 reportable collisions
  • 385,753 drivers involved in collisions
  • 400,820 vehicles involved in collisions
  • 579 fatalities
  • 44,430 personal injuries

A self-driving vehicle would dramatically reduce the number of collisions and consequently the number of people injured and killed on our roads.

But the self-driving car also raises some important questions that need to be answered. Since the car is wholly reliant on a computer for operation and navigation, what happens if there is computer error? A person inside the vehicle would be trapped in a run-away vehicle. Most of us have had the experience of when a computer spontaneously stopped working. Consider the consequences if that computer is controlling a car driving at 40 km/hr. Also, the Google car relies on an Internet connection to identify and navigate to its destination. A drop in the signal could bring the car to a sudden stop – possibly creating a dangerous situation.

There are also privacy and liberty issues. Google already gathers a tremendous amount of information about us through our Internet searches and analyzing what we do while online. With the driverless car, Google would be able to collect data on where we go. As for liberty, are we ready to give up control of our vehicles? What happens if a government body tries to impose the driverless car on its citizens? Arguably, if the only vehicles on our roads are computer operated, there should be no collisions and no collision related injuries and fatalities. What a great idea, but at what cost? Are we prepared to give up our privacy and control of our cars to increase our safety?

These are all important questions that need to be reviewed and answered before the Google driverless car becomes mainstream. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you see a vehicle that looks like a computer mouse in your rear view mirror.

Kristian Bonn, Personal Injury Lawyer

Bonn Law Office, Trenton/Belleville, ON