There’s a lot to worry about in the world right now, from terrorism to drought to natural disasters to crime in the streets. Speaking of the streets, add yet another area to cause a few jitters, albeit somewhere down the road: fears about cars of the future.
It isn’t that such worries keep most people up at night. They’ve got many other legitimate concerns to do just that. But astute consumers, those who pay attention to trends, pending legislation, and the whole gravitational shift toward autonomous cars, have reason for concern. Here we take a look at what may just be the 10 biggest fears about cars of the future, listed in no particular order.
Deadly Pileups Caused By Autonomous Cars – The idea that an autonomous car, interspersed among cars driven by actual humans 100 percent behind the wheel, could cause a deadly pileup has to be at or near the top of the list of 10 biggest fears about cars of the future. Something fails, the driverless car misinterprets a potential action, automatically applies the brakes and brings the vehicle to a screeching halt – while numerous vehicles behind the auto-piloted car slam right into it. That’s the nightmare scenario that puts a little frost on the inclination to rush into autonomous cars. Granted, there are a few years before autonomous cars go mainstream, but the trend is definitely pointing in that direction – especially given the government’s push toward this eventuality.
Complete Electrical Grid Failure – With the interim push toward more and more plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, another nightmare scenario involves a total standstill – literally – of such vehicles caused by an unexpected and complete failure of the nation’s electrical grid. No electricity equals no going anywhere by vehicle. Causes of such electrical grid failure could range from terrorist acts to natural disasters – but anything that results in taking down this vital power source would be catastrophic. That’s not to mention the grinding to a halt in power for homes, computers, hospitals, emergency responders, airports – everything and anything that depends on electricity. And it’s not just the short-term consequences that are worrying. If the electrical grid goes out, it could be days, weeks or months before it is back up and running.
Car Hacking Ratchets Up – Not a week goes by without some news story about cars being hacked. With so many vulnerabilities in today’s vehicles, criminals and hackers who just want to cause mayhem are taking advantage of the situation and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. If computer-savvy thieves know how to thwart any car’s systems and literally make the vehicle do what they want, where does that leave the owner? Out in the cold, no doubt. There’s nothing worse than going out to your car, expecting to get in and drive away, only to realize that it’s already gone – and you’re the victim of a car hack.
You Can’t Escape Big Brother Watching – From the so-called “black box” inside every new vehicle racking up all types of driving behavior to various kinds of monitors, security systems, infotainment offerings and more, it’s getting more and more likely that every move a driver makes is being captured, recorded and stored somewhere and available to the powers that be – or who can obtain a warrant to seize. That should be enough to chill your thoughts of cars of the future. While it may not be the future of “Big Brother” that George Orwell envisioned in his book 1984, it comes close. Who wants that much oversight and control over their comings and goings? Does this scenario at all concern you? Or are you confident that the government only wants the best for you?
Government Mandates Mean Less Consumer Choice in Cars – Suppose the federal government decides that one form of fuel is going to be outlawed or taxed so obscenely that average drivers can’t afford to pay the price. Whether it’s gasoline or something else, such a mandate would be disastrous to the future of cars in America. But it could also be some other form of governmental mandate that dictates the size, weight, or other capabilities/functions/equipment of vehicles. What if the safety regulators order that all vehicles have X-amount of safety systems – and such systems (many of which, incidentally, will be necessary for autonomous driving) are cost-prohibitive? While side blind zone warnings, forward collision mitigation and interventions, lane change intervention, rear cross traffic intervention and the like are great safety features, they aren’t cheap – or fully mainstream as yet. This will change over time, but a mass move toward widespread use in new cars would result in less choice for consumers. Take it or leave it. That’s not the American way – at least, not yet.
Insurance Premiums Skyrocket – While some consumers may be worried about the government getting their nose in their business, others may well be bothered about other entities learning too much about what drivers do behind the wheel. Case in point are the auto insurance companies, some of whom now offer discounts for safe drivers, those who opt to allow a device to be installed that monitors driving behavior. Everybody thinks of themselves as a good driver, but the fact is that we’re not always all that good. The occasional speeding, taking a turn too fast, being distracted behind the wheel, breezing through a yellow light can all come back to haunt us in the form of increased premiums.
Privacy Concerns Escalate — With so much information about what drivers do, where they go and when out there, there’s also rightful concern about individual privacy. You’re no longer free to go where and when you choose. Someone can track you and someone may very well be doing so without your knowledge. Parents can track their teen driver’s behavior, although having a conversation with their son or daughter before engaging in this type of teen driver monitoring is highly recommended. In a similar manner the adult children of an elderly driver may use monitoring equipment to keep tabs on a parent or other loved one. Intrusive? Unwarranted? Invasion of privacy? And these are just well-meaning scenarios. What about the computers on-board our vehicles that are telling strangers about what we do? Privacy concern escalation is another fear about cars of the future – and in some cases is already here.
Could There Ever Be No-Car Zones? – Purists, environmentalists, starry-eyed futurists and others may call for car-free zones, cities and neighborhoods. If you count yourselves among them, you might well be all for such a scenario. For many, however, being forbidden to have a car or drive it in, around or near your home, place of work, school, shopping or entertainment is anathema. What about the freedom to go where you please and when? If you’re in a neighborhood where you have to depend on walking, bicycling, taking a tram or train or subway, that limits choice, sharply curtails personal mobility and freedom. It may be a limited or far-off scenario, but it could happen somewhere. For some, this is a nice idea, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Cars So Automated, Drivers Forget How to Drive – What about the driver who’s so dependent on driver-assist systems – like automated parking, blind zone warnings, back-up assistance and forward-collision warnings – that they forget how to actually drive? It’s already happening anecdotally. A driver gets so used to his or her vehicle taking over parallel parking that when they’re in a rental or another vehicle lacking such driver-assist technology, they are reluctant to or rusty in the practice of actually doing the maneuvers themselves. Too much reliance on technology is not a good thing. Whether it’s laziness, deciding to let technology do what you should know how to do or something else, this is not conducive to overall confidence in cars of the future. After all, technology isn’t going away anytime soon. More of it is likely to be standard equipment on cars of the future. Where will this leave drivers? Opting to let cars do it all? Not a good thing, in the minds of some Americans looking down the road at what might happen.
The End of Performance Cars – For some consumers, the death of performance cars wouldn’t be all that bad. For others, however, especially automotive enthusiasts, the possibility that performance cars would go the way of dinosaurs is a definite worry. Gas guzzling engines, cars that have a top speed of 150 mph+ and do 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds, or carry a price tag exceeding the nationwide average cost of a house could become a thing of the past. Government mandates, a swift change in consumer sentiment, a fuel crisis, war – many different factors could weigh in to cause such a decline. Not that this is likely, but if it did happen, that would not be a good sign. After all, if the only vehicles available are virtual appliances on wheels, where’s the fun in driving?