Can you imagine never having to drive yourself anywhere ever again? Even in this day and age, advanced as technology is, the idea of a self-driving car still seems pretty far fetched. However, you might be surprised at just how close they’re getting to reality.

Google is already working with a fully functional prototypes of the self-driving car – a highly modified Toyota Prius – and officials in the United Kingdom have already given clearance for real-world, live road testing of self-driving cars to begin on British roadways in 2015.

As advancements such as these take place, drivers are forced to stop and take note of how self-driving cars might affect their lives when they finally hit the road.

Are the roads ready?

The first and most obvious question about self-driving cars is whether or not our current infrastructure can support them. On the one hand, they will be controlled using GPS and a series of advanced sensors, so one wouldn’t think that the roads themselves would have much of an impact on the self-driving cars’ performance.

But that’s not necessarily true. In fact, a recent report from MIT indicates that current prototypes wouldn’t be able to navigate 99% of the United States’ roads, simply due to the vehicles’ reliance on highly detailed maps and other data. On top of that, the report indicates that the prototypes still aren’t able to drive in heavy rain, much less snowy, foggy, or icy conditions.

It will be years before these issues are resolved and self-driving cars can roam the roads safely.

Will self-driving cars be able to make life-or-death decisions?

The ethics of autonomous car technology are another major issue for self-driving technology. If a self-driving car has to choose between two outcomes, both of which are bad (swerving to miss five people and hitting one in the process), how will it make that decision, and who will be held responsible for it?

Experts are still debating how this will be handled when self-driving technology is finally implemented in consumer vehicles. However, for now it’s safe to say that self-driving cars will be equipped with at least some form of manual override capability, which will allow the driver to intervene and resolve any crises that may arise on the road.

What about speeding, collisions, and other violations? Who’s responsible?

One of the most exciting aspects of self-driving technology is its anticipated capacity to prevent collisions, make the roads safer, and reduce traffic violations. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether or not those benefits will come alongside the advent of the self-driving car. In a world where only self-driving cars are used, these goals seem totally attainable, but, in a world where manual and autonomous vehicles are used, human error will still find a way to cause trouble.

For example, Google is already programming their prototypes to drive with the flow of traffic, meaning they’ll break the speed limit without skipping a beat if the majority of other drivers are doing the same.

As mentioned above, the first few rounds of self-driving cars to hit the streets will likely come equipped with manual override controls, so you’ll be able to step in and slow down when necessary. However, there’s nothing stopping law enforcement from ticketing you if you let your self-driving car follow the crowd and break the speed limit.

Drive on

For now, we can put any apprehension about self-driving cars we may have to rest. They won’t be cruising public roadways for several years, and that’s a liberal estimate. However, regardless of their kinks and uber futuristic nature, we’ll still be surprised and in awe whenever self-driving cars finally do hit the road.

Informative Infographic on Self Driving Cars

Graphic image courtesy of LandL Automotive