No Demand for 'Defensive Driving' Mode in Self-Driving Cars

General Motors recently cancelled development of "Defensive Driving" software in its autonomous vehicle program. The announcement came just days after Ford announced it had cancelled the development of similar "Safe Driving" software.

2 minute read

April 1, 2019, 6:00 AM PDT

By Planetizen

Racing Cars

Vlasov Yevhenii / Shutterstock

It's still unclear whether self-driving cars will reduce traffic, but the doesn't mean they'll ever have to reduce their speeds.

Two major automakers have announced the demise of software development programs that would have forced self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles to put safety first on the roads this week.

On Tuesday, Ford announced that it would no longer develop "Safe Driving" software for its self-driving car program. Earlier press announcements described Safe Driving software as "basically the golden rule behind the wheel," and promised that self-driving cars would always perform like they were driving on the streets of their childhood.

"We found that most consumers have no desire for their future self-driving cars to drive like their grandmothers," said Vern Periculosus in an email response to questions. "We also found that most engineers don't want to build a car to drive like their grandmothers."

Bipartisan conflict followed the announcement, with Democrats raising concerns about the thousands on layoffs among wealthy donors in the Silicon Valley, and Republicans accusing the program of being a "democratic ploy to make cars the new plastic straws."

The Ford announcement scarcely had time to settle in on Capital Hill before GM followed with its own announcement of layoffs and plans to build a more aggressive, potentially lethal self-driving cars. Earlier reviews of GM's now defunct "Defensive Driving" software, called the experience of riding in a GM self-driving car set to "Defensive Driving" like hearing "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for the first time.

Speed is a factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities, according to the Vision Zero Network. But in the future, software will be taking the risks instead of humans, according to the consequences of these announcements. When asked if the companies had any evidence that robots will make better choices than humans on the roads, Periculosus evaded.

The decision is based on precedent, according to Periculosus, because car companies could have locked engines to prevent cars from traveling at unreasonable and unsafe speeds for decades. "Consumers have always preferred speed over safety, and they always will," said Periculosus.

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