•Editor’s Note: Dr. George G. Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business at the College of Charleston. He wrote a weekly column for The Post and Courier on the automotive industry for 25 years, culminating last spring. This is one of an occasional column/contribution to Wheels and Waves.•


Special to The Post and Courier

One local resident who cannot wait for the arrival of driverless cars is Peter Smith, the first blind professor at the College of Charleston.

After relying on friends and family for transportation the past 35 years, his interest in autonomous vehicles is understandable.

Major automakers are well along with highly researched and developed cars that can drive themselves: General Motors, Nissan, Audi and Toyota among them — even Google is getting in the act.

According to the pro-driverless-vehicle group, future sales in volume with produce fewer accidents, fewer deaths and fewer injuries on the nation’s highways. Driverless cars are already legal in three states: California, Florida and Nevada.

Some states are worried about “liability.” Why? After all, the proponents of driverless cars apparently feel these vehicles will be defect-free and run forever.

Not so fast. Here’s why … At a recent course titled Insurance and Risk Management, which is taught by the aforementioned Smith, a guest lecturer asked the 32 students this question: “How many of you have ever experienced a problem with a computer?” All 32 hands quickly rose.

That prompts many questions about driverless cars that have not been asked:

1. Insurers have to figure out who is responsible for any product problems — the manufacturer, the dealer, the software designer or, possibly, the GPS provider.

2. The expected longevity of the vehicle and its critical parts, such as batteries, engine, brakes, steering.

3. Will driverless cars EVER break down? If it should happen on the open road, what are the safeguards?

Several computers will be responsible — for speed, direction, operating under all kinds of conditions, weather, uneven roads, electrical interference to name a few. Already cars operating today have 100 million lines of computer code to run engines, electric braking, steering systems and traction control.

An old adage is still true: Anything man-made is subject to errors. Look at the number of automotive recall campaigns every year, by all the vehicle manufacturers.

Even Peter Smith will have deep concerns about the true safety of driverless vehicles.