Today’s Headlines

  • SF Finishes Tech Shuttle Hub Survey (SFExaminer)
  • More on Dolores Park Trash (Hoodline)
  • L-Taraval Plan Update (Hoodline)
  • More on Mayor Lee’s “New” Vision Zero Projects (KQED)
  • Pedestrian Hit Near Stonestown Galleria (SFist)
  • Housing Development for Market and Jones (Hoodline)
  • Study Shows Millennials Value Vibrant Downtowns and Public Transit (SFChron)
  • More on Self Driving Car Safety Questions (KQED)
  • Healthcare Subsidizing Lyft for Menlo Park Seniors (DailyJournal)
  • Thief Nailed by GPS Tracker in Bikes and other Loot (SFGate)
  • Marin Debates Transit Versus More Traffic (MarinIJ)

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  • gneiss

    Many people believe that autonomous cars will be safer than human drivers, because they will be less distracted, drive more safely by obeying all speed limits, drive defensively, and give people outside of the vehicles space and time enough to avoid deadly collisions. However, there is a competing subset of engineers and others who tout the benefit of AVs to be that cars can drive faster than humans. Will be able to follower closer on highways at higher speeds. Can navigate intersections without the need for stoplights or signage and other “time saving” advantages that will ease traffic flow. All of these will prove deadly to pedestrians and others, because at high speeds, even AV’s will have difficulty failing to stop to prevent an unexpected collision.

    The question, then is what competing philosophy will win out for the consumers? My own belief is that while many urban designers want cars to be safer and slower (like the google cars), the prospective owners of these cars will want vehicles that get them to their destinations as fast, if not faster than their current vehicles, otherwise they won’t buy them. Sure, you might attract those who don’t currently own cars, like the blind, but that’s a small segment of the market. In fact, manufacturers of AV’s that sell only safe vehicles will be at a competitive disadvantage to those that sell the faster, more aggressively driving vehicles.

    We can use as an example what happened during the 1990’s after gas prices fell and while engine efficiency was still on an upward trajectory. The car builders knew that people loved to buy big, powerful cars, and acceleration and size were influential selling points. So, instead of continuing to drive fuel economy higher, manufacturers used the gains from the new engines to make cars more powerful, because that drove sales of new cars.

    If we think that the same sales pressures won’t exist for AV’s then we are fooling ourselves.

  • murphstahoe

    With an AV, we can set the speed limit to whatever we want. And we know that the car will actually conform to the speed limit. Right now, California has to set the speed limit to the 85%ile of what people actually drive, regardless of other conditions on the roadway. Many places have tried – and failed – to lower the speed limit because people drive fast due to the structure of the roadway, but shouldn’t because of the proximity of pedestrians.

    And because of the ability to navigate better, the cars will have lower trip times despite lower overall speed limits. 20 is plenty, right? Thus the rider gets a faster trip time despite a slower top speed. And drivers who are behind the wheel are more impatient about time spent on the trip because it is wasted time. Someone who is engrossed in their facebook will be less concerned about a minute here or there.

    As for sales pressure – I am firmly in the camp that people won’t own the cars, they will be used per trip in a fleet. The fleet model without a driver will tip the overall cost in favor of just not owning a car.