Featured Media Resource: [VIDEO] Self-Driving Cars: The Road Ahead” (KQED QUEST)
Self-driving cars are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Google, Tesla, Audi and other companies are taking dozens of prototype vehicles onto the road in California and other states. But before they can take off with consumers, big hurdles need to be overcome. (Note: We recommend that you view the following five-minute section from the half-hour documentary—06:03 to 10:44)


Do Now

Should we invest time and money transitioning to driverless cars? Why or why not? #DoNowDriverless 

How to Do Now

Do Now by posting your response on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Flickr, Google +, etc.

Be sure to include @KQEDedspace and #DoNowDriverless.

Go here for more tips for using Do Now, using Twitter for teaching, and using other digital tools.


Learn More About the Debate Over Driverless Cars

Driving a car is one of the most dangerous human activities. According to the US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2014, approximately 32,675 people died in traffic accidents and another 2.3 million were injured. Driver inattention and distraction are often the cause of these accidents. Companies, including Google, have been working to create an efficient solution to prevent human error. Their solution: driverless cars.  Although this innovative technology may provide various benefits, it also has several downfalls.

Pros 

Driverless cars could create a safer environment on the road by eliminating issues such as drunk-driving, exhaustion, blind spots, and distractions from activities like using a smartphone while driving. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), about 32 percent of fatal car accidents include an intoxicated driver or pedestrian. If driverless cars are properly introduced to roads across the country, millions of lives could be saved.

Small, self driving taxis could be economically feasible and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.Google
Small, self driving taxis could be economically feasible and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.

There would also be opportunities to save time and insurance costs. With computers operating the car, passengers can spend their time working or reading. Fewer cars on the road would also cut down transportation time. With the advanced technology installed in the self-driving cars, vehicles will be able to drive in closer range, creating less traffic. In addition, disabled individuals who currently rely on public transportation or other drivers would have greater flexibility.

In addition to helping individual drivers, driverless cars could also have a positive impact on the larger community. Because a computer is in control, there would no longer be the possibility of speeding, freeing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes (although some argue that many police officers would be put out of work with this technology). Furthermore, a system with solely driverless cars requires fewer parking structures because the cars can drop off the passengers and find a spot farther away.

Cons

If driverless cars are not universally adapted, the combination of driver-necessary and driverless cars on the road could be an issue. Therefore, a rapid transition and clear safety guidelines would be necessary for the success of this technology. Driverless cars would not be able to interpret human traffic signals, such as traffic signal malfunction, bricks, cones, police signals, or even other driver’s signals; and thus, a combination of the two could lead to disaster. Another problem: whose fault would it be when an accident occurs? The manufacturer, the passenger, or the programmer? There is even the possibility for hackers to access the cars’ computers and cause accidents.

Car accidentRian Castillo/Flickr

Many people might not trust such technologies and prefer to drive themselves. How would a quick, universal transition be possible if people are unwilling to adapt to the new technology? Furthermore, the use of driverless cars would diminish the need for public transportation, rendering many people jobless. Driver education companies would lose business, or be forced to shift the purpose of their courses. And when the situation arises, humans would no longer have the experience necessary to drive themselves.

So, should we invest our efforts in transitioning to driverless cars, or stick with the system of driving that we have now? Why or why not?


More Resources

VIDEO: Sebastian Thrun: Google’s driverless car (TED Talks)
Sebastian Thrun helped build Google’s driverless car, motivated by a personal quest to save lives and reduce traffic accidents.

VIDEO: Google’s Self Driving Car (Google)
Explore Google’s Self Driving Car Project through various videos of interviews and test drives.

ARTICLE: For Now, Self-Driving Cars Still Need Humans (The New York Times)
Learn more about research on driverless cars from various car companies.

AUDIO: The Ethics Behind Driverless Cars (NPR)
Learn more about the ethical debate surrounding driverless cars.


Do Next

Do Next takes the online conversation to the next level: these are suggestions for ways to go out into your community and investigate how the topic featured in this Do Now impacts people’s lives. Use digital storytelling tools and social media to share your story and take action. Make sure to tag your creations with #DoNowDriverless.

  • Host a Debate: In your classroom, create a debate. Create opening statements, arguments, counter arguments, rebuttals, and closing statements to demonstrate the multiple facets of the issue. You can use visuals, polls, etc. to support your viewpoints. Have some students watch the debate and vote after the debate to see which side developed the strongest arguments.
  • Create a Public Service Announcement: Create a slideshow on Animoto or use a phone to film a short video either advocating for or against driverless cars. After filming, use video editors like WeVideo or iMovie to put your video together and share it with your friends.
  • Illustrate the Debate: Make an infographic using an online tool like ease.ly or Piktochart or even PowerPoint to explain the different positions on the issue of driverless cars.
  • Melissa Ann Myers

    Should we transition to driverless
    cars?

    Personally I don’t think we
    should have driverless cars because what if they malfunction and blow up that
    would be more dangerous than just driving a car with drivers. There are pros
    and cons to having a driverless car. US
    Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2014, approximately 32,675 people died in traffic
    accidents and another 2.3 million were injured. The pros are that you can just sit back and
    enjoy the ride. Driverless cars
    could create a safer environment on the road by eliminating issues such as
    drunk-driving, exhaustion, blind spots, and distractions from activities like using
    a smartphone while driving.

    According to the National Council on Alcoholism and
    Drug Dependence, about 32 percent of fatal car
    accidents include an intoxicated driver or pedestrian. If driverless cars are
    properly introduced to roads across the country, millions of lives could be
    saved. Disabled individuals who currently rely on public transportation or other
    drivers would have greater flexibility. People who had trouble getting around
    would have a better chance with transportation if we moved to the driverless
    cars. Fewer accidents would happen; people and their kids would feel more comfortable
    and safe. More and more people would be getting this new invented car. Because
    a computer is in control, there would no longer be the possibility of speeding,
    freeing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes. Some argue that many police officers would be put out
    of work with this technology.

    If driverless cars are not
    universally adapted, the combination of driver-necessary and driverless cars on
    the road could be an issue. Therefore, a rapid transition and clear safety guidelines would be necessary for the success of this technology. The
    computer could malfunction and something bad could go wrong and that would be a
    major cause to not get or even try to sell this car because people could hack
    into these cars and worse things can happen. Driverless cars would not be able
    to interpret human traffic signals, such as traffic signal malfunction, bricks,
    cones, police signals, or even other driver’s signals; and thus, a combination
    of the two could lead to disaster. Whose fault would it be if an accident did occur?

    Many people might not trust such
    technologies and prefer to drive themselves. How would a quick, universal
    transition be possible if people are unwilling to adapt to the new technology?
    Furthermore, the use of driverless cars would diminish the need for public
    transportation, rendering many people jobless. Driver education companies would
    lose business, or be forced to shift the purpose of their courses. And when the
    situation arises, humans would no longer have the experience necessary to drive
    themselves. New York Times says that cars still need humans. “This is going to be a journey, and a
    reasonably long one,” The danger is that by inducing human drivers to pay even
    less attention to driving, the safety technology may be creating new hazards. We
    should not make driverless cars there are more cons than pros.

  • Matthew Vang

    Transitioning to driverless cars has it’ own advantages, in my personal opinion I have nothing against driverless cars but only if they are built efficient and well proven that this car is capable of avoiding accidents, malfunctions, and passing regulations.

  • Matthew Luna

    Should We Transition to Driverless Cars?

    I believe that we should look more into self driven cars and conduct more tests before they get released. There are many pros to this idea. One is that driverless cars could create a safer environment on the road by eliminating issues such as drunk-driving, exhaustion, and blind spots. Today, about 32% of accidents are caused by an intoxicated driver or pedestrian. I believe that if we come up with a safe driverless car, we will have less deaths and accidents. Lastly, I think that the new technology in these driverless cars will have many benefits since the sensors that are inside of the vehicle are able to detect traffic conditions and traffic collisions. All in all, I think that this idea will be a huge game changer if we go through with it.

  • Justin Flores

    I believe that driverless cars can be very useful and helpful. However, at the time there is too many problems with the self driverless cars. For example, the cars can’t interpret human traffic signals. They can’t interpret traffic signal malfunction, bricks, cones, police signals, or other driver’s signals. Another problem is that the computer that is driving the can have a malfunction. On the other hand, the cars can be very beneficial. The driverless cars create a safer environment. They have the power to revolutionize the way we work and socialize. They cars can even parallel park themselves. They can help prevent car crashes. In 2014 there were 32,675 people that died in a car accident. If we had driverless cars that number would be a lot lower. So I believe that we shouldn’t have self driving car on the road until there are no more cons about the cars but if they fix the problems then I believe they will be a real game changer.

  • Elizabeth LaLonde

    when it comes to the idea of weather or not we should transition to driveless cars is one that I would have to agree with. According to the KQED website the idea of having driveless cars would help us with the distraction of individuals being on their smartphones along with the problem with drunk drivers. They also say that it will help more of the community. According to an article it was first put into action by the state of California.

  • Alec Goodman

    I believe that we would be better of with drivers in the long run. Although driver-less cars are cool and could potentially save lives we could accomplish the same thing by people acting more responsibly. I believe that if people would just follow the rules and act responsibly then we wouldn’t even need to worry about this. Another problem is that it will take a long time for us to transition if we end up doing this. It would be hard on people who could barely afford a car in the first place. No matter what we do they are going to be expensive for the first 10 years or so. The last problem I have with driver-less cars is that we would lose some of our freedom. There are lots of places in the world to explore where driver-less cars would not be able to go.

Author

Chabot Space & Science Center

The Galaxy Explorers at Chabot Space & Science Center are a group of youth volunteers who educate, explore, and share science with the public through interactive demos, special projects, and community partnerships.

Chabot’s mission is to inspire and educate visitors about Planet Earth and the Universe through exhibits, telescope viewing, planetarium shows, interactive programs, and engaging experiences to connect visitors with the earth and environment, astronomy and space travel. Chabot’s education programs promote STEM literacy skills needed for a 21st-century society and workforce.

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