The Risks of Self-Driving Cars

October 22, 2015  - By
Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka

We fear the hacker who might corrupt the software system of our vehicles. Maybe they will subvert our brakes or steering. And Volkswagen gave us a new scare. Maybe we should fear the car manufacturer. Can we trust vehicle OEMs for the safety of self-driving cars? Before we buy a vehicle, most of us read reviews and test drive the vehicle. In a short drive, we can judge the peppiness of the engine and handling around corners. We can’t test the reliability of the vehicle software, a particular concern when it is going to be driving our car.

Tesla just released Autopilot, a $2,500 optional software upgrade which, in a blink, enables autonomous driving. Model S owners wirelessly download the software, and voila, have a self-driving vehicle.

This isn’t the first semi-autonomous vehicle. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have these features, but at lower speeds or with the requirement that the driver touch the steering wheel at prescribed intervals. Toyota is playing catch-up, and announced a target to commercialize semi-autonomous cars in five years. Later this year, Toyota plans to launch three new car models in Japan with sensor technology and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.

Tesla has been out in front of these efforts in speed and hands-off control with Autopilot able to drive at 70 miles per hour. A driver must have faith in an automaker’s testing, quality control and honesty to put himself in the hands of new software for such a ride. Aaron M. Kessler of the New York Times recently drove a Tesla with Autopilot. Within 20 minutes, he felt comfortable enough to withdraw his hand from near the steering wheel to his lap. He was confident in what he observed in those 20 minutes. Smart? I’m not convinced.

With Consumer Reports dropping its recommendation of the Model S, Tesla is faced with public outing of problems that plague any new car model. In a survey of 1,400 survey Model S owners, Consumer Reports discovered noise, motors and door issues with the car. Shares of Tesla fell 10 percent with news of the pulled recommendation, and perhaps will lower confidence in the reliability of Autopilot.

Road & Track magazine recently sounded off to their readers that despite concerns that driving will no longer be fun, autonomous vehicles will arrive, wanted or not. Readers were warned of a future where self-driving would be allowed only on designated roads and would entail a higher insurance premium. The bet is that software from companies (VW?) will be more dependable than we humans.

This is posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author: Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at

1 Comment on "The Risks of Self-Driving Cars"

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  1. Wiliam K. says:

    It is not “FEAR” as stated, it is a desire to avoid unpleasant things such as having our vehicle hacked and then crashed, and having that computer make some poor driving choice based on an incorrect understanding of what the sensors report. Based on current observation of our computerized surroundings these are very prudent concerns. Just look at how often our windows malfunction and the idea of putting something that dependable in charge of vehicle safety appears absurd indeed.
    One more question is about “who is going to be able to maintain this very complex collection of critical hardware?” NOBODY has made any mention of that issue.