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Clegg: A step between the Jetsons and reality

BY CHRIS CLEGG | FEBRUARY 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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Growing up, I always wanted one thing: a flying car. Half of that dream may have been fueled by my childhood obsession with “The Jetsons,” but the other half was undoubtedly molded out of hope that one day I would have the opportunity to fly to school, or, as grown-up me currently feels, to work.

While no aero-navigating cars have made their way onto the market (yet), the next revolutionary step in transportation seems to be developing with the conception of driverless cars.

The concept of an autonomous car should not be that foreign to us in 2015. As early as May 2014, the New York Times published an article on Google’s progress in the field and also cited companies such as BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo AS delvING into the new technology.

The numerous companies competing to gain ground in this area seems to suggest that the availability of such resources are relatively close to being perfected and offered to the masses. This notion is echoed by a report from the Department of Transport in the United Kingdom that states,

“The Government will publish a Code of Practice in spring 2015 for those wishing to test driverless vehicles on UK roads.” So, if the technology is already developed and soon to be marketed, what are some of the different applications we can use when considering autonomous car technology?

Private use, for one. Imagine being able to use the time you spend driving to instead check your email, or study for an exam, or set up an appointment that you have been putting off for the past couple of weeks. While these few extra minutes may not seem significant, keep in mind that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American drives more than 13,000 miles annually — plenty of time to do anything other than drive.

Military applications would soon follow, much like drones followed the development of pilotless flights. The debate over this application of the technology would surely roll over into the current one with our use of militarized drones, but whether you are for or against the use of drones, this technology would ensure the safety of tank and other armed ground-vehicle pilots by eliminating the driver completely.

Perhaps the most important issue it raises is that of who is at fault when something goes wrong. Because driverless technology is exactly that, technology, it has a chance to simply not work.

Should this happen and the car get into an accident (or worse), who would be at fault? Would it be the manufacturer of the technology? The person? The company that sold the car? All of the legal issues that surround what happens in circumstances of liability would need to be clearly defined by different local, state, and national governments, a process that could impede the allowance of the technology regardless if its ready to be used or not.

Even though driverless car technology has been OK’d for testing in certain parts of Europe, the U.S. government should facilitate more discussion between its national and local departments of transportation to pursue the option of autonomous cars. The more time and resources that are put into such a discussion would allow the United States to keep pace with European countries that are threatening to outrun us in the modernity of transportation. 


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