What Is a Driverless Car?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

A driverless car is an automobile that has an autopilot system allowing it to safely move from one place to another without help from a human driver. Ideally, the only role of a human in such a vehicle would be indicating the destination. The implementation of driverless cars could theoretically lead to many improvements in transportation, including a reduction in car accidents, more efficient transportation, and an increase in road capacity. There are, however, many obstacles to successfully implementing the concept as a common and effective method of transportation. This is especially true in situations in which a car on autopilot would need to safely navigate alongside normal cars directed by human drivers.

To be useful, a driverless car must be able to navigate to a given destination based on passenger-provided instructions, avoid environmental obstacles, and safely avoid other vehicles. Some proposed methods for meeting these goals involve developing entirely new transportation infrastructures or substantially altering the existing infrastructures to accommodate driverless vehicles. One example involves developing a monorail system to which private vehicles can "dock." Upon connection, the monorail would guide the private vehicles to their destinations. This type of system would simplify navigation and collision avoidance but would require large-scale changes to the existing transportation infrastructures.

Driverless cars might lead to a reduction in car accidents.
Driverless cars might lead to a reduction in car accidents.

Other ideas for the development of a driverless car only involve the development of a new type of car and do not require any infrastructure changes. Such vehicles would operate like traditional human-directed vehicles and would not require more than minor infrastructure changes. For this type of vehicle to work, it would need to have access to some form of guidance system that would direct it to its destination. It would also need a short-range guidance system that would allow it to safely navigate through traffic without endangering its passengers or other drivers on the road.

Driverless cars might negate the need for street lights.
Driverless cars might negate the need for street lights.

There are many potential advantages to using a driverless car instead of a traditional human-controlled vehicle. A driverless car would not be subject to human error, one of the most common causes of car accidents. There would be little need for driver's licenses, highway patrols, extensive traffic laws, and even stop signs or street lights. Such vehicles would not be affected by jerky or erratic human drivers and would, therefore, be able to drive very close together. This could lead to a situation in which high road density would not have a detrimental effect on speed, so many cars could travel close together while maintaining a high average speed.

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Discussion Comments


I was just wondering, does anyone know what has happened to these driverless cars in a thunderstorm? Surely they've been tested in such circumstances. I just wonder if lightning hits the laser system if the car would spin out of control.


The few times I have ridden a monorail I have been impressed with how quickly it gets you to your destination. They are also filled with a large crowd of people so can transport large groups of people at one time.

As neat as it sounds to have a driverless car, I have a hard time imagining how it would work during something like rush hour traffic.

When I think about the number of cars and drivers that are on the road when I am commuting to work it is hard to process how this could all be done with driverless cars.

There are many days when this sounds like it would be a wonderful plan though! I don't like to drive nearly as much as I used to, and am always more than happy to let someone else do the driving.


I can't imagine how expensive it would be if you had to change the whole infrastructure system to accommodate driverless cars.

It would be much more cost effective if you could implement these into our current roads and bridges.

There have been many times when I was on a long trip and doing a lot of highway driving when I wished I could just put my car on auto pilot.

When I think about how many drivers are out there that are driving when they are extremely tired or focused on other things, it sounds like there would be many times when it might be a safer way of transportation.


@KaBoom - Driverless cars do sound neat, but I worry about the possibility of computer and machine errors. If driverless cars were operated by computer, there are a lot of things that could go wrong.

First of all, computers make mistakes sometimes. Also, there is always the possibility of a computer being hacked or infected by a virus! Just imagine if a bunch of cars were infected by a computer virus and started malfunctioning! If traffic was as dense as the article suggests it could be, I think a lot of people could be injured.

I'm not saying we shouldn't pursue driverless cars, but I think we should do so very cautiously. Maybe the monorail system would be a better way to go.


I think a driverless car system sounds pretty awesome. Car accidents kill and injure a lot of people every year. If we could find a way to avoid that, I think we should.

Also, the article made a pretty convincing argument about traffic. As the article said, if the cars weren't human operated, a large amount of cars on the road wouldn't affect speed.

I know a lot of people that make a pretty stressful morning commute in stop and go traffic. I don't think this can be good for their overall health. We all know stress can cause a lot of ailments. I think driverless cars would definitely take some of the stress out of driving!

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    • Driverless cars might lead to a reduction in car accidents.
      By: il-fede
      Driverless cars might lead to a reduction in car accidents.
    • Driverless cars might negate the need for street lights.
      By: Pavlo Burdyak
      Driverless cars might negate the need for street lights.