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The Top 4 Myths About Self-Driving Cars, Debunked

Self-driving is inevitable. Self-driving is a pipe dream.  It’s here already. It’s decades away. It’s a panacea. It’s a pandora’s box. 

For a technology that sparks so much conversation and wonder, autonomous vehicles are still not well understood by the general public. But that’s hardly their fault! In truth, there is so much conflicting and contradictory information out there about self-driving—about its technological capability, its safety, and its potential impacts on society—that it’s hard to know what’s rooted in fact and what’s still in the realm of science fiction. 

In this four-part series, “Debunking Self-Driving Myths,” Ground Truth begins to close the gap between hype and reality. We turned to industry experts to address some of the most pervasive misconceptions about self-driving. The technology may still be in its infancy, but there are some things we know for certain–so let’s begin to set the record straight.  

Myth 1: Self-Driving Cars Will Be Here Tomorrow

Pedro Pacheco, Senior Research Director at Gartner, explains why hype and gamesmanship can create misleading expectations that undermine public trust and slow technological progress.

Pacheco believes that autonomous vehicle developers should put an emphasis on realism and reachable benchmarks, like talking only about products when they are ready to go to market. “The market is starting to get a bit tired of claims of future milestones,” he said. “It has come to a point that making a claim saying it will happen in 2-3 years doesn’t mean much by itself, because there has been a lot of that happening and many claims that haven’t been fulfilled.

Myth 2: Self-Driving Cars Will Make Public Transit Obsolete

Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst for Guidehouse Insights, lays out a future where autonomous vehicles don’t cripple public transit, but actually strengthen it.

What cities don’t want, Abuelsamid says, is further growth of vehicles, even if they are autonomous ones, which could make traffic flow worse. “We already have a problem with too much land mass in cities being consumed by parking and vehicles utilized for maybe an hour a day,” he said. The last thing city-dwellers want is to put more cars on already jammed roads.

Myth 3: We Will Never Be Able to Trust Self-Driving Cars

Matt Arcaro, a senior industry analyst at IDC, argues that the autonomous vehicle industry should increase transparency and agree upon common safety standards in order to build public trust.

For Arcaro, the lack of awareness about self-driving cars is partly due to the fact that the technology is still embedded in the realm of science fiction. Films like the 2017 action sequel “The Fate of the Furious”—where fleets of hacked cars are commandeered to serve as four-wheeled weapons—only widen the gap between fiction and reality. “Autonomy isn’t widely evangelized or widely available yet,” Arcaro says. “And the scenarios cooked up in movies and TV always push the edge cases of what could really go awry.”

Myth 4: Your Kids Won’t Need a Driver’s License

Michelle Krebs, director of automotive relations for Autotrader Group, says the days of teens wanting to take a driver’s test on their 16th birthday are far from over—it’s the way we train teen drivers that will likely change. 

Until self-driving vehicles are available at scale, and are guaranteed to take teens wherever they want to go, they will still likely opt for the freedom that comes with a driver’s license. “Personal mobility the world over is a big thing—especially for young people,” Krebs says. “That freedom of movement leads to socio-and-economic upward mobility. That is incredibly important from a psychological point of view.” 

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