Why Self-Driving Cars will Fail


There is growing enthusiasm that self-driving cars will take over the roads and highways. Not so fast. While automatic braking and other self-driving car features will help increase safety, self-driving cars, cars without human drivers, have severe and possibly insurmountable barriers to their adoption.

Accidents will Happen

First of all, accidents with self-driving cars are bound to happen. Most will probably be the fault of humans driving other cars into the self-driving vehicles, or cutting them off with not enough room to stop. In the event of an accident, how does a human driver exchange insurance information and driver’s licenses with a self-driving car? Possibly, this can be worked out, but it will not be easy. If the self-driving car is badly damaged, its electronics will likely be impaired so that it may not be able to respond to a request for information (will self-driving cars hear you?). You could put insurance and other information on the car’s window, but this could be destroyed in an accident as well.

Ice and Snow

No car, whether self-driving or not, can control itself on black ice and other exceptionally slippery surfaces. This will lead to more accidents. Did you ever go down a hill that was icy and you could not stop? An experienced human driver might know that certain routes are hilly and subject to slippery conditions. Are self-driving cars programmed to deal with ice, snow and hills? Can these be programmed to get around dangerous conditions?

Drives Like an Old Lady

Self-driving cars will drive no more than the speed limit; that’s how they will be programmed. Most humans drive much faster. These slow-moving vehicles will likely interfere with the flow of traffic, cause impatient humans to pass them and probably cause more accidents.


Human drivers are observant and intuitive. Drivers often perceive or anticipate the wrong moves of other drivers such as cutting you off, turning in front of you or whatever. You can look other drivers in the eye and have a feeling for what they are up to. I don’t believe that self-driving computers will ever be able to accomplish this as well as humans.

Let Me In

How many times have you signaled, by hand signals or by voice that you needed to get over one lane, would the driver let you in? Self-driving cars can’t do that. They cannot signal that they need to go around you. They can’t respond to your visual or verbal requests. Think about how Siri responds to your verbal requests—not very well.

Officer’s Directions

Sometimes conditions require that police officers take the place of traffic signals. They might tell you to stop, turn left or right or give you another command. How will self-driving cars obey police officer directives? Will these cars pull over for the police? And what will the officer do when he attempts to pull over a driverless car? How will a police officer force a driverless car to stop? Will we see television station helicopters following a runaway driverless car with multiple police cars following?

Computers and Cars are Not Infallible

Everyone who has ever used a computer knows that they fail. They go blank. They reboot or need to be rebooted. Technology is fantastic, but it is not foolproof. Driverless cars will fail to stop, turn into lanes where they shouldn’t and will likely cause accidents. What happens when a driverless car gets a flat tire? What happens when there is a metal on metal scraping sound that the driverless car does not notice, but would send a human to a car repair shop? How does a driverless car fill up with gas or recharge?

Moving Forward

Of course, there are advantages to self-driving cars. They don’t fall asleep at the wheel, drink and drive, or smoke marijuana. But computers can keep human drivers from drinking and driving, or sleeping and driving. We should increase the use of computers and other technical devices to make humans better drivers. If we prevent driving under the influence, human drivers are really pretty safe.

Driverless cars may come to pass within the next 10 or 20 years. Considering this possibility, there are still numerous safety barriers to overcome. Until this happens, we should focus our attention on making cars for human drivers safer by requiring automatic braking and blind spot assistance. Further, we should have cars that would be able to detect drivers who are under the influence, or are falling asleep and cause the car to park itself by the side of the road when the driver is not awake and sober.

Joel Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American-made products. Email joeldjoseph@gmail.com. Phone 310 MADE-USA

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017


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