Fully autonomous vehicles are fast approaching on the horizon. A handful of top automobile manufacturers have already released dates by which their driverless cars will hit the road: Honda by 2020, Nissan by 2020, Ford by 2021, Volvo by 2021, and Tesla by the end of 2017. Google’s driverless car division, is currently recruiting hundreds of families in Phoenix, AZ, to their early rider program so that the company will know how to best tailor driverless cars to families.
As parents, we are left wondering what this means for transporting our most precious cargo. Of course we’d love to spend fewer hours on the road by delegating rides to playdates, piano lessons, ballet rehearsals, and soccer practices. But are driverless cars safe for kids? Until they have been on the road and their safety standards have been tested extensively, most parents do not consider driverless cars to be an option for transporting kids alone.
One major safety consideration is supervision. Adult presence is not only necessary to ensure that children get to their destinations safely, but also to take care of misbehavior. Carpooling with multiple children in an unsupervised vehicle is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps in-car monitoring devices through which parents could communicate with children would help, but that would require parents to be on standby to confirm that the drive is going smoothly. To this end, there will surely be legal limitations on how old a child must be before riding alone in a self-driving car, and maybe even a maturity test to make sure they are ready to ride without adult supervision.
Another important concern is how parents’ two most frequent drives–to and from school–would work. The thought of a fleet of driverless cars communicating with each other and neatly approaching the school gate would be a welcome improvement to the chaos of pickups and dropoffs. However, how can those responsible for school dismissal confirm that kids are getting into the right vehicle going to the right destination? Perhaps facial recognition in driverless cars could remedy this issue and help ensure a safe dismissal process.
Once driverless cars take to the roads and parents learn to trust autonomous technology, it’s possible that it will become the normal way to transport children. This is an extremely interesting space for our kids carpooling app, Figure8. We have the unique opportunity to become the fabric of transportation planning. As mentioned above, car manufacturers like Volvo are already preparing for a time when families will no longer own cars. Instead, they will circulate in fleets, ready to pick up users wherever they might be. With Figure8’s data regarding when and where families need to be on a recurring basis, the app could easily help direct the demand of cars.
What do you think? Would you send off your children in driverless cars? Let us know in the comments below.