We have to start with a lot of caveats. Truly, fully autonomous cars might never happen, despite the assurances of Elon Musk. Tesla is an aspirational company. They are trying to do things that others have considered impossible. That is worth celebrating. But aspirational companies tend to celebrate and declare victory too early in the process. It only just occurred to Musk that developing a safe self-driving car is a hard problem. Racing down that road at a break-neck speed has cost many early adopters their lives. That’s a pretty big caveat.
Another is the feasibility of slow adoption. Almost everyone agrees that we would all be safer if all vehicles were autonomous. However, there is no model for making that happen. It is tech that has to be adopted slowly by early adopters. The vehicles are coming before the infrastructure. And there is some doubt that a handful of autonomous vehicles on the road are no safer when most people are still behind the wheel. We need to reach a critical mass somehow. That will neither be fast nor cheap. That said, if we assume that such a future is even possible and feasible, it can’t come soon enough. Here’s why:
Total Sobriety Might Be Unachievable
For driving to be totally safe, we minimally need total sobriety from drivers. Based on the last 200,000 years of human behavior, that is probably never going to happen. Since there have been plants that made people feel kind of funny when they ate it, someone has been willing to pull it up from the ground, roll it, smoke it, and sell it. During the pandemic, weed stores were considered essential businesses. And almost every American was willing to be a felon when alcohol was prohibited.
Further, any drug that can be used can also be abused. Whether it is late night after a party or a company picnic, abusing drugs before a drive is as common as, well, driving. You don’t have to admit it. But there has probably been a time when you had one for the road. First, if you simply can’t go an evening out without drinking before driving, talk to someone about getting help. Second, be the first in line for an autonomous vehicle whenever they finally become available. There are plenty of cities where public transportation means you don’t have to drive. It is better to take your chances with an autonomous vehicle than with a driver who does not have total sobriety.
Past Mistakes Make Driving Expensive
If you are someone wondering how to clear a DUI from your record, you are not alone. There are a lot of people who are realizing how expensive a single mistake can be. First, be thankful the police pulled you over. Second, you are going to need some kind of specialized insurance to get back on the road again. For many people, it just isn’t worth it.
If you think one mistake is expensive, wait till you see the price you pay for a second offense. It is not just about demonstrating poor judgement with substances. It is causing an accident. Your insurance can increase astronomically, and that’s if it was a minor incident. This is just a small part of the reason why younger people have less interest in driving than previous generations. Autonomous cars will get a lot of people back on the road who have been sidelined by poor judgement and questionable driving skills.
Those bicyclers in Manhattan are not doing it because they can’t drive for some reason. They are doing it, in part, because they take environmental responsibility seriously. Biking, even ebiking is among the most energy-efficient ways to get around a city. So when they have the option to take the bike instead of the car, they do so. Autonomous vehicles will not be as energy efficient as biking. But they will beat every form of human-driven car on the road right now. That is a win-win for everyone.
Will we ever see that fully autonomous vehicle dream come true in our lifetime? If it ends non-sober driving, allows people with less than perfect driving records to achieve equality, and dramatically reduces air pollution, it can’t come soon enough.
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