While there is all kinds of pie-in-the-sky talk about the future of self-driving cars, one generally agreed upon impact of any potential widespread adoption is safer roads. With safety-conscious software making the decisions, red lights won't get run and road rage will be a thing of the past, right? Not if a new study from Goodyear and the London School of Economics is to be believed. Its authors found that individuals who plan on retaining their human-driving vehicles are excited that they will be able to essentially bully the machines into submission.
"Some focus group participants were quick to identify the safety and quality of life improvements they could perceive resulting from [autonomous vehicles]," study authors write. "At the same time, however, many participants worry that AVs could not have the same understanding of the road as human drivers and would lack common sense. Some see AVs as a potential nuisance, while others see an opportunity to take advantage of, or 'bully' AVs."
An autonomous car would theoretically register and know to avoid a reckless driver — pulling over and letting him pass, for example — and that's just the behavior said reckless drivers are excited about. "[The AVs are] going to stop," one focus group participant told study authors. "So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip round.”
To be fair, this already happens. Who in their right mind wouldn't let some tailgating nut pass? However, it's the knowledge that autonomous vehicles are always paying attention — not texting or whatever it is most drivers are doing these days — that suggests those who don't respect the rules of the road will feel furthered emboldened to drive like assholes.
This suggests a future of America's highways and cities that differs from the one envisioned by the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Instead of efficient, ordered transportation systems, the London School of Economics posits a world where the crazy few rule the streets. Which, frankly, sounds basically like it is now, but without robots.