Friday night topic: Driverless cars


— 5:38 PM on August 1, 2014

The news that the UK will soon allow driverless cars on its roadways has me thinking. The prospects for driverless cars fascinate me. When a driver's attention is no longer required in our primary mode of transportation, many things are possible.

For instance, when my son and I drove up to the TR BBQ this year, we slept in our minivan on the nights before and after the event. Driving the 11 or so hours each way was pretty grueling, but the air mattress in the back of the van was fairly comfy. I realized during the drive home that, if the car could drive for us, our behavior might have been very different. Imagine tucking into "bed" inside a vehicle at home on Friday evening and waking up at your destination many hours away the next morning.

If that's possible at some point in the far off future, it would open up all kinds of new travel possibilities. I'd probably vacation very differently, with way more time spent in the Colorado mountains, if sleep time became travel time. The number of highway miles traveled would probably rise substantially, all told.

More mundanely, I'm sure driverless cars could improve the autonomy and quality of life for older kids/younger teens, soccer moms, and the elderly. And I expect the average commuter would find life more bearable, as well.

Heck, North America is so built around the automobile, this sort of technology could transform the way we live more fundamentally than we probably realize.

I'm also fascinated by the way advocates of this technology have already started talking about how much safer these things will be than human drivers. Of course, safety issues are probably the number-one barrier to the adoption of a new technology like this one—and, face it, there will be problems and deaths on the roadways during the teething stages, at least. These things happen. Starting early on getting out the message that this tech could be safer in the long run is what's known as "inoculation" in a policial campaign. I'm a little surprised this tech has advocates who are already engaging in it.

I'm also creeped out by the anti-car people who seem to view driverless cars as a possible avenue to eradicating car ownership. Yeah, I've seen the inside of a taxi and the interior of a subway car. Not interested. Ugh.

With that caveat, though, I am excited by the possiblities here. How do you think this tech could change our lives? Discuss.

   
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