Last month, security researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee. The pair disabled the SUV’s transmission. On the highway. At highway speeds. The headlines were, and are, everywhere.
Cybersecurity and the threat of chaos is a new reality in the age of connected and autonomous cars. The key word in that last sentence is "reality."
This is the reality we live. Cars can, and will, be hacked. More commonly, autonomous and connected cars will lose control. Accidents will happen. People will get hurt. Reality.
Matt Lauer will interview top cybersecurity experts on “The Today Show.” The news will drum up a pandemic of fear. Lawsuits will happen, finger-pointing will occur. Liability will be splayed in front of courts, local and federal. Senators will flay automotive executives in nationally televised hearings. Legislation will be written and rewritten.
Riding in a semi-autonomous car designed by Continental Automotive Systems a few years ago, an executive told me it only takes one crash to derail the industry’s progress. But should it?
It’s safe to assume no one wants accidents to happen and even fewer want to see a death. The automotive industry certainly doesn’t want its customers to get hurt while using its products.
But accidents will happen. They must happen.
It’s in the name of safety that accidents will happen. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
With each accident, automakers and suppliers will learn something new. Something to fix, something to do better. Lives will be saved.
According to a McKinsey report this year, autonomous vehicles -- those equipped with enough technology to drive without much driver interaction -- could reduce traffic accidents by 90 percent.
Ninety percent. Fewer accidents; fewer deaths. With some napkin math, that equates to roughly 27,000 lives saved out of the roughly 30,000 claimed by traffic accidents in the U.S. each year.
That’s enough to shoot for the moon on autonomous cars, in my opinion. But that won’t end the skepticism and looming litigation and legislation. And that’s OK.
“The liability and finger-pointing will be rampant, but it’s going to take some crashes of cars with these features before we’ve got it all figured out,” said Claudia Rast, a law partner at Butzel Long PC in Ann Arbor. “It’s going to be a major issue that’s going to grab headlines and it’s going to be a bit of mayhem for a while. But we’re talking about a dramatic decrease in deaths.”
So, yes, for those of us lucky enough to live through the nascent stages of autonomous vehicles, we will carry some inherent risk. But not a greater risk. Autonomous cars are, or at least will be, safer. And, in the end, our children will be safer. Isn’t that worth it? I think so.