Let’s get our priorities straight. 37,000 are killed and 2.35 million are injured on the road every year in the United States. That’s more than double the rate of US deaths in the Vietnam War at its absolute peak. That’s more than 8 times as many US deaths in 1 year as the entire Iraq war. Worldwide, twice as many people die in car accidents than in all wars and murders combined. Fuck the peace movement, give us self-driving cars. Ok, don’t fuck the peace movement, but let’s prioritize.
Car accidents cost the US $871 billion per year in “economic loss and societal harm”. That’s twice our federal budget deficit. Two years of dramatically fewer accidents would pay for the entire Iraq war. It wouldn’t pay for Trump’s $1.2trillion/year taxcut, but it gets most of the way there.
Think about the thousands of dollars each of us would save in car insurance. Imagine the revolution in public transportation with self-driving busses. Imagine the changes in traffic patterns when networked, self-driving cars can reach higher highway speeds traveling inches apart. Imagine ending… ENDING stoplights and stop signs. Networked cars won’t have to stop for each other. Imagine what that does to mileage and our carbon footprint. Imagine how food and goods will be cheaper because the highways remain the best way to move shit around. Imagine not having to find parking when everywhere in america has a free valet. Imagine no more DD’s!
Imagine the economic impact of having more time in the day and more job flexibility with better commutes. The talk about robots taking jobs tends to ignore the increases in productivity and economic growth that result, the rising tide that raises all boats. This is a perfect example of the benefit of safety, money, jobs, and general wellbeing that vastly outweighs the truckers and bus drivers who have to find new jobs in that new economy.
This isn’t cold-fusion; the technology is here. (Although, don’t get me started on the feasibility and impact of a fusion energy revolution) Self-driving cars will probably be a significant part of highway traffic in the next decade.
However, as with any new technology such as attack drones, lab grown food, and gays, there’s an “ick” factor reaction to the unknown. One of the biggest limiting factors is lawmakers, as self-driving cars are mostly restricted to use on private property. Tesla is anticipating the revolution, making its cars capable of driving themselves, so they will be ready when the law and infrastructure catches up.
So far, self-driving cars have an impeccable record. By far the biggest danger that driving robots have to deal with is humans. Even the first crash in which the car was partially at fault, which didn’t happen until 2015, was mostly the fault of an aggressive bus driver. When self-driving cars become part of our infrastructure, the path to criminalizing manual driving will begin in earnest, as it should. There will aways be places in our country where people can drive for fun, but in a culture where the drivers we share the road with are already all “idiots” and “assholes”, I don’t think kicking them off of our highways will be too difficult.
Who is willing to rely on Congress and state legislatures to push the progressive changes we need in infrastructure to make this happen? Who is willing to count on trillion dollar investments that will lead to a huge… YUGE return on investment? How many lives will be lost while we wait?
I’m certainly not the early adopter type. I only got my first smartphone a few months ago. Really. I also know that sharing the road with 4,000 pound robots moving at 70mph would freak me out, let alone riding in one. I don’t even like roller coasters. I also think putting newly developed drugs into my body would be unnerving, especially if I’m not that sick. However, if I’m dying of cancer, I’ll accept more risk for the newest, most badass technology.
Revolutionary drugs that are found to be effective in early trials can be given “breakthrough status”, and used for many terminally ill patients before the drugs have passed all their safety trials. We are willing to accept some risk of the unknown for a chance of fixing a dire known. People will surely die in accidents caused by self-driving cars, but let’s keep our perspective.
Driving is such a necessity that we are well conditioned to ignore the costs and risks. Many Americans don’t know how sick we are, hurling our bodies into one another and our glass and steel cages. Many Americans don’t realize how close we are to a cure. We can’t afford not to be early-adopters when it comes to self-driving cars. Every candidate needs to speak on this issue, and every presidential candidate should put forth a plan.
Truly revolutionary ideas put our political fears into perspective, but fortunately, Trump for self-driving cars isn’t a choice I have to make.