Autonomous Vehicles, or Cars with Automatic Control

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Many new technoloMany new technologies have emerged in the 21st century that have only been seen before in science fiction movies. Who knew a time would come when technology would be so far advanced that cars would be driving around by themselves. I want to look today on how this might impact society. Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, today are as foreign as airplanes were when they were first invented. The technology is new and unknown to most and people are trying to discover whether it is trustworthy.

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This technology has potential to have an impact in more than one aspect of society including social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental.

Social Impact

Autonomous vehicles have been evolving as the next technology to confront the issues in driving to include accidents and congestion. Similar to any change that has ever occurred, a lot of backlash and concern over this new technology. Although they are being sold as the safer solution to solving these problems; many are still wondering if they will have issues and how costly they will be. These vehicles have not been entirely accepted mainly because they are still in the developmental stage. Some people fear that malfunctions and mishaps may still be too common. Research is showing that they are safe, but will people be willing to accept these fact and trust them; only time will tell. Just like any other new technology it will take some time to examine the benefits as well as the risks and then make a real decision. Ultimately, we can see the trends shifting toward being more in favor of this new technology than we have ever seen before.

Previously when autonomous vehicles were thought of, they were considered a long shot from reality. Here we are today actually having successfully tested over a million miles. The fact that humans are responsible for such a great percentage of accidents has to make you wonder what we can do to prevent them. The idea that we can have our cars think and respond for us is very new and can be very scary. Although the autonomous vehicles are safer because they take out human error, they are bound to hit some errors on the way also. For example, Tesla is known for their super technology advanced cars many coming equipped with autopilot. In May 2016 a driver of one of their vehicles in China died while driving in autonomous mode. Although it was the very first reported death of its kind, it is still enough to raise some concern. 

Even though this technology has proven to be far better than humans, it goes to show that “even seemingly perfect automation would still lead to accidents, injuries, and deaths; even with automation, nothing is actually perfect”. (Neumann, 2016) Even with this, people are undoubtedly still open to the idea of autonomous driving. General Statistics show that 37,461 deaths occurred in 2016 from fatal crashes in the United States alone. This makes it that much more important to ensure safety first when developing autonomous vehicles. But this is also the main reason for the rise of this technology, to reduce the number of deaths each year caused by vehicle accidents. Many experts predict that one day in the near future we will almost completely eliminate human error accidents.


Around the world autonomous vehicles are further being developed especially in emerging markets. It is believed that these trends will continue as more countries around the world embrace this new technology. Most of the hardware necessary for autonomous vehicles is expensive, therefore, it may take some time before the average consumer is able to afford this technology. The United States has been a leading innovator for autonomous vehicles with Google’s self-driving cars and Tesla’s models that both have autopilot. These advances have been seen around the world as well from Australia miners using automated trucks to move iron ore to Japan using automated busses for more efficient public transportation. Throughout the civilized world this technology is sky rocketing.

One remarkable fact about autonomous vehicles that predate its existence is that it may well have been thought of long before its time. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched in about 1498 a pre-programmed clockwork cart that would have been powered by large coil springs and propelled over a pre-determined course of 130 feet. Other literature and art forms have used the idea of autonomous vehicles as these intelligent vehicles are popular in science fiction. Literature works include Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction short story Sally, Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga series, Robert A Heinlein’s novel The Number of the Beast, Stephen King’s novel Christine, Edizioni Piemme’s series Geronimo Stilton, Alastair Reynolds’ series Revelation Space, and Daniel Suarez’ novels Daemon and Freedom. 

These works in one way, shape, or form uses the depiction of autonomous, or semi-autonomous, vehicles. Along with these written works we have seen a fair share of this technology used in film. From movies to TV shows many of them featuring this technology. Movies include Stephen King’s novel Christine which became a movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman, Total Recall, Demolition Man, Timecop, The 6th Day, Minority Report, Mr. Incredible, and I, Robot. TV shows include Knight Rider and Viper, whereas other shows have only a single episode using similar technology like CSI: Cyber, NCIS, South Park, and Black Mirror.


Politics has been a major player in the field of autonomous vehicles. There is no federal legal frameworks that exist for use of these vehicles, however, the existing legislation may be enough. There may be problems in the current context of the law. For example, Volvo’s CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced that it will take full responsibility whenever a vehicle is in full automation. This has been seen as a huge step forward in hopefully simplifying self-driving laws but not every car manufacturer feels the same way. 

Tesla, has been working on its semi-autonomous mode so that the driver is liable in the event of an accident. They are requiring drivers to be fully aware of what is going on while driving in autonomous mode so they can take control in case anything happens. Regardless of manufacturer intent, the government has an obligation to keep the people safe by providing regulations that they vote in. Even though many legal scholars believe autonomous driving may be legal with current law, manufacturers may face enormous fines for liability. This may not be good because it may drive manufacturers to not want to develop autonomous vehicles. That is why some legal scholars believe that like nuclear reactors, autonomous vehicles will receive an insurance policy which will keep manufacturers from going bankrupt. Laws and regulations will continue to rollout and adapt as this technology becomes industry standard.


The amount it costs to build an autonomous vehicle is quite expensive, leaving only the top manufacturers in the world with the ability to build this type of technology. This technology requires the use many different components including motion sensors, 360 degree cameras, GPS, controllers, actuators, etc., which explains the high cost. “Annual sales of fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the US will reach 5 million by 2026, according to a new report from Juniper Research. Globally that figure will reach 20.7 million in the same year.” (Writers, 2018) As parts become more affordable the industry will more than likely be more sought-after by just about every market.


The environment could benefit from autonomous vehicles in so many ways. It is hopeful that taking out human error that human lives can be saved due to the reduced accidents. Human life has seen its fair share of death and these vehicles could save countless lives. Since 90% of accidents are caused by human error, autonomous vehicles could have a large impact on the environment. These cars are mostly electric which means that they do not discharge air-polluting emissions. Running them on electricity, solar, or even hydrogen would down on the pollution.

This technology can be seen as a positive impact on the environment. However, as always there is still some negatives that they need to continue working on. One such negative is the amount of energy needed to run these vehicles. That energy needs to come from somewhere, some sources could be harmful to the environment than that of a gasoline vehicle. “Congress is working on legislation aimed at a workable balance between encouraging innovation, setting standards for safety and uniformity, and showing necessary deference to state and local authorities to regulate streets and roadways.” (Environmental Law & Policy Center, 2018) As with every new technology, it will take some time for them to get all the particulars worked out; but the promise of a greater product with fewer accidents is fantastic.

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Autonomous vehicles, or cars with automatic control. (2021, Oct 16). Retrieved from