Driverless cars are the future. The technology is still in its early days, but it’s being developed at blistering speeds by both private corporations — such as Cadillac — and academic researchers. The car of the future will not only be self-driving, it’ll also be closely networked with other cars to ensure that accidents and other problems will be limited in how much damage they do… or eliminated altogether (auto insurance companies rejoice!). Even the roads themselves will be more intelligent with networked traffic signals dynamically adjusting signal timing as traffic flows through roads and intersections.
All of which raises the question: Will this make the driver’s license a thing of the past?
Yes … and No
Some believe that drivers’ licenses will be gone as early as 2040 We’re a little less optimistic, but we think it will happen… eventually.
But for the time being, such a change is nowhere in sight. Right now, the laws on the books allow driverless cars on the road… but somebody with a license has to be behind the wheel at any given moment. Part of this is simply the fact that these laws aren’t a blanket license for all driverless cars, but rather laws that allow companies to test driverless cars for benefits and drawbacks. These cars need as much road time as possible to refine the technology.
But could that change in the future? It’s true that automakers are fascinated with driverless vehicles, partially because driverless systems could be used to streamline the parts of driving that are the riskiest and most annoying. Even if the driverless systems aren’t implemented, they lead to new safety measures: Back-up cameras and collision warning sensors are two technologies that came out of driverless technology work.
What’s Standing in the Way?
As with anything, there are a few roadblocks in the way.
- Driverless cars need to be able to demonstrate they can handle the worst of human driving, which seems feasible but has yet to be fully tested. Humans are much better than robots at handling sudden changes and improvising, although roboticists are hard at work improving that.
- The majority of cars would need to be driverless, and that’s a much trickier proposition. It takes time for any new technology to filter down to the general public, especially in America, where the average age of a car is over a decade and just keeps climbing. And currently, driverless cars are an expensive proposition; Google’s driverless Priuses cost $150,000… just for the equipment to make the car driver-free.
- Then there’s the issue of trust: How many drivers will believe a computer can drive to the store for them? And how many would prefer to have control over their vehicle? Cost doesn’t really matter if nobody will buy the car in the first place.
It seems more likely that technologies that come out of driverless cars will come onto the market over time, and that driverless vehicles will become more likely on a large scale, such as in public transit. Vehicle-to-vehicle systems, which coordinate drivers and warn them about oncoming accidents, hazards, and drivers with problems on the road, are currently being tested by the federal government. And limited driverless technology is in the works, handling tasks such as parallel parking. While optimistic projections believe most cars will be driverless by 2040, we’re not sure that will fully happen in our lifetimes.
So what does all this mean? That part of being a driver will involve trudging to the DMV for a long, long time. But on the bright side, while you’ll still need your license, at least you’ll be using it to drive a safer, more convenient car.