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Self-driving cars: Are you along for the ride?

You'd be hard pressed to find a person these days who isn't excited about the prospect of roadways filled with self-driving cars in the near future. This new technology could "save up to 300,000 lives per decade in the United States," explains a 2015 Geek Wire article, by preventing car accidents and other motor vehicle collisions. Unfortunately, this technology might not be as safe as we want it to be just yet.

Despite an aggressive push from automakers like GM and Tesla to put more and more self-driving cars on our roadways, everyday people are noticing that the vehicles' guidance systems still need work. In order to make good on their promise of preventing thousands of car accidents every year, automakers need to address these three key issues:

1.) Self-driving cars can be hacked. As the two hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek proved in 2015, the computer systems on a self-driving vehicle can be hacked, even from miles away. Two years ago, the two were able to remotely gain control of most systems on a self-driving car including the vehicle's transmission, windshield wipers, radio and temperature controls.

The danger here lies in the fact that if people are able to hack into a vehicle's systems, they could exert control over the vehicle that could lead to an accident. To prevent this from happening, automakers will need to be diligent about their systems, always staying one step ahead of hackers through constant software security updates.

2.) Graffiti on road signs can confuse self-driving vehicles. Quite recently, researchers at the University of Washington discovered a major flaw in how self-driving cars classify the objects it sees. Researchers noticed that by simply placing stickers on a stop sign in strategic locations, they could trick the vehicle's onboard computer to categorize the sign as something else, such as a speed limit sign.

As you probably realize, there is a major difference between a stop sign and a speed limit sign, which is why cities in the future will need to immediately remove graffiti or sign alterations so as to avoid being held liable in motor vehicle collisions.

3.) Self-driving cars don't have the same reasoning skills as humans. Can you tell the difference between a cat and a plastic shopping bag blowing in the wind? Of course you can. Unfortunately, self-driving cars might not be able to. This isn't the only limitation, however, explains an August article for Wired. Humans are better able to do things like stay in their lanes when lines are faded than self-driving cars that rely on distinct lines to drive safely.

Ignoring this last issue can cause a self-driving car to unnecessarily brake, potentially causing a serious rear-end collision in the process. Additionally, faded lines on a roadway could cause a self-driving car to drift, resulting in a serious or fatal head-on collision.

The shortcomings in self-driving car technology are obvious, but what's less obvious is how quickly automakers will address these issues. If automakers want to win the race to introducing the first fully functional self-driving car, designers need to address the issues above before they lead to major recalls or accidents later on.

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