Nikitas, Alexandros (2015) Automated Cars: A Critical Review of the Potential Advantages and Disadvantages of Driverless Technologies. In: First International Workshop on Smart Urban Mobility, 26-27 November 2015, Edinburgh Napier University. (Unpublished)

Over the last decade the automobile and technology industries supported by the interdisciplinary efforts of numerous research institutes around the world, have made significant leaps in bringing computerisation into what has, for over a century, been exclusively a human operation: driving. Starting from the introduction of functions that nowadays seem straightforward or even basic such as anti-lock braking systems and traction control and progressively commercialising more complex features such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous parking assist systems we are getting closer and closer to a world-shattering new era; the era of self-driving vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles have, in theory at least, the potential to completely transform urban development as we know it, with a revolution in ground transport, regulations permitting, that could dramatically change the landscape of cities around the world and have an enormous economic, social, spatial, and mobility impact. There are great expectations from driverless technologies in terms of the benefits these might be able to provide to human race. A list of potential advantages includes among others: enhanced transport safety, significantly less traffic accidents and fatalities, reduced traffic congestion, increased road capacity, environmental benefits in terms of fewer carbon emissions and noise nuisance, relief from driving and navigation duties and therefore more occupant flexibility, no driving restrictions (everybody will be able to ‘drive’), transformation of the very regime of car ownership as known today and thus huge car-sharing potential, smaller parking space and time requirements, reduced needs for traffic police, physical road signage and vehicle insurance premiums, smoother rides and eventually more cabin space.

However, there is another, grayer, side in this coin; vehicle automation despite its potential advantages may bring its own set of challenges. These could include: user resistance to giving up driving control, loss of situational awareness, loss of driving skills, privacy issues, increased vulnerability to software and hardware flaws and hacking, a new human-machine ethics paradigm due to the automated risk allocation in collisions, liability for damage issues, need for an entirely new legislation framework, loss of driving-oriented jobs, susceptibility of the car's navigation system to different types of weather, communication problems with non-autonomous vehicles in mixed traffic situations, heavy investment to revolutionise current road infrastructure to adapt in the new fully computerised requirements, more potential for terrorism, need for very different road policing and enforcement approaches.

This work means to provide an up-to-date critical review that brings together all these potential opportunities and challenges.

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