Five Myths About Driverless Cars

Words by Lauren Isaac

Illustration of Lauren Isaac

Countless reports have talked up the drastic changes that will result from this disruptive technology. Lauren Isaac pours sugar in the tank of some of the more common misconceptions

1 

We won’t need headlights 

Ford has unveiled an autonomous vehicle (AV) that can drive entirely in the dark using LiDAR. But even if the cars don’t need headlights to “see” in the dark, pedestrians and cyclists will always need to be able to see the cars.

2 

AVs will reduce or eliminate stoplights

MIT researchers have worked out a way to eliminate traffic signals even before self-driving cars become the norm, using sensors inside cars and a communication method at the interchange. But while there is potential for commute time savings, this (again) ignores the fact that pedestrians and cyclists will need to know when they can safely cross.

3 

Connected vehicle technology won’t be needed

Driverless and connected vehicles are distinct technologies that have significant benefits independently. However, the combination of the two will maximize the safety benefits for society. It was recently revealed that the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed while his car was engaged in the “autopilot” mode, when its camera and radar failed to distinguish a truck turning across its path. Connected vehicle technology could have enabled the vehicle to alert the driver to an impending collision or take corrective action. Had the truck and car both had it, the truck driver might not have made the dangerous turn in the first place.

4

All AVs will be electric

Just about every research report discussing the impacts of AV highlights reduced greenhouse gas emissions, because AVs will be fuelled by electricity. But these are two distinct technologies — it can’t be assumed that AVs will leverage electric vehicle technology.

Public transit will be obsolete

While I do think transit agencies will need to rethink their service offerings, fleet types, pricing and coverage areas, I believe government involvement in public transportation will always be necessary. Government will need to manage their jurisdiction’s mobility to minimize congestion, ensure proper transportation options for all demographics and enable seamless payment across platforms.

Lauren Isaac is manager of sustainable transportation at WSP

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