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Jan 30, 2018 - 3 minute read - Comments - technology

Let Me Answer That Tired Old Driverless Car Question

You: Driveless cars? Oh no! What if the car is in a situation where the only way to avoid running down a baby is to crash into 4 other people? What will it do?

Me: I’m glad you asked that. It turns out this is an easy question.

You: It is?

Me: Absolutely! The car would do the exact same thing that you did the last time you were in that situation.

You: But… I’ve never been in that situation.

Me: Well, certainly it has happened to one of your friends.

You: no.

Me: Well certainly it has happened someone you know.

You: No.

Me: Ok, then why are you even asking?

You: Well, I guess it is an important question about liability.

Me: Ah! Liability is handled by having the insurance companies of everyone involved work it out.

You: That’s not a real answer!

Me; Oh, but it is! Whether you hit another car or another person that’s actually what happens. One company or the other pays, and you don’t. If someone doesn’t have insurance, the state has a law that dicates what happens.

However the real answer is this:

The vehicles will be programmed to follow the law.

More specifically: It turns out the problem has a simple answer which is highly likely to be the one taken. In almost every situation of this sort, the law already specifies who has the right of way, and who doesn’t. The vehicles will be programmed to follow the law.

Now that we’ve settled that… let’s talk about what’s actually interesting about robo cars.

As far as insurance is concerned:

  1. Eventually robocars will be safer than human-driven cars. They’re already safer than a sleepy driver and will get safer.
  2. When they are safer than a human driver, insurance companies will offer a discount for using a robocar.
  3. As the cars get smarter and safer, insurance companies will switch to a penalty for not having a robocar.

At that point a human-driven car will be a luxury car that only rich assholes drive. (or maybe it will be more like a manual transmission, which makes you feel like you have more control but is probably more of a status symbol at this point.)

But wait… in the future, there is a good chance that your liability insurance will be part of the car. In fact, General Motors announced that they would “take full responsibility” if a crash takes place during an autonomous driving trip. This follows a pledge to do the same made some time ago by Daimler, Google and Volvo and possibly others.

But to be honest, I don’t think many people will buy their own robocar. They’ll buy into a fleet. You’ll buy a monthly membership and select either a “eat all you want plan” or a “per mile plan” or somewhere in between. As a member, when you need a car, it will be available. Heck, you’ll probably be able to input what time you need to be at work and return home in advance so that it can schedule a car for you.

What if you have kids and need a minivan so that you can keep all the kid’s toys and other stuff in one place? It won’t be reasonable get a different car each time. Well, I have no idea how to solve that problem but there will certainly be enough demand for a solution.

That’s the real question to be asking. What will parents do?

That’s what reporters should be asking everyone!