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Autonomous vehicles - do you trust them? Should you?

Car Front Closeup

Here, at Black Pepper, we are not just about solving complex technical problems. Sure, we love doing that, but we’re also keen on making sure that the technical solution we deliver fits the business challenge our clients have. That’s why we take the time to understand the sectors our clients are at the forefront of and all the challenges they may face. Our brilliant Automotive Account Director, Josie Byrne had a few thoughts on autonomous vehicles and whether or not we should trust this technology:

There’s been much speculation and interest in the subject of autonomous vehicles in recent times and how and when full autonomy might be achieved. I myself find the subject a fascinating one. However, I do struggle with the concept of getting into a car, preprogrammed to transport me to the office whilst I happily make a start on my work emails and my car makes all the decisions and negotiates the 25 miles of motorway and A roads to deliver me safely at the office before then heading off to find itself a suitable parking space to spend the next 8 hours until it’s time to drop me home again. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of spending my commute time doing something either useful or interesting but I can’t comprehend ever being able to place that level of trust in a machine, however smart it might be.

That said, there are a heap of statistics to show that driver behaviour is actually the biggest cause of accidents on the road with a recent study citing that 94% of traffic deaths are caused by human behaviour and error, which got me thinking. In recent times, I’ve occasionally swapped my car for a bicycle on the daily commute. In the space of 2 months, I was hospitalised with severe concussion when a driver decided to overtake without leaving me enough space on the road; then on a second occasion I was tended to by a paramedic after an oncoming car decided to make a swift right turn into a road that I was approaching, forcing me to brake in order not to hit the car but sending me over the handlebars of my bike in the process. Both of these incidents were a result of driver impatience on the road with my well being seemingly of secondary importance to the driver shaving a minute or two off their journey time (on neither occasion did the driver actually stop and check that I was still alive, incidentally). So my personal experience definitely seems to support these official statistics.

Added to that, when I consider my daily commute, not a day goes by when I’m not affected by poor decision making on the road or a witness to it happening to someone else - being cut up, undertaken, pulled out on, forced to brake suddenly (and yes, sometimes it’s me that’s making the bad decision even though I like to think of myself as a fairly safe driver). I often count my lucky stars that these incidents haven’t resulted in something more serious. I believe most of us are familiar with that heart in the mouth feeling that follows a near miss when you know that you have just been extremely lucky to not become yet another statistic.

According to the advocates of fully autonomous vehicles, total adoption by consumers will create an autonomous utopia which will take humans out of the equation and therefore eliminate these poor decisions, the result being fewer accidents on the roads. Perhaps then I’ll need to reconsider my inherent mistrust of these smart machines and welcome the day when I’ll be able to relinquish responsibility over to them whilst I update my Facebook status. At the very least when that time comes, it might be time to dust off my trusty bicycle...