How Would Driverless Cars Change the World?

By now you’re probably aware that driverless cars have been created and are on the way.  The Google Driverless car has been tested on roads and the companies behind the vehicles are already pondering the infrastructure needed to switch America over to a system where every car can follow pre-set paths and interact with all other cars on the road to prevent accidents, speeding, getting lost, traffic jams and Grandma stopping in th emiddle of intersections because she forgets what a yelloew light means.  But what does that mean?  And is it all good?

Suppose every car is computer operated and speeding is a thing of the past.  Currently 41 million people per year are pulled over for speeding.  This brings various law enforcement agencies around the country over $6.2 billion in revenue.  If that money vanishes, what will make up the difference in law enforcement budgets which are already strapped?  Cops don’t make a lot of money just for beating innocent civilians on camera.  This was posed on Slashdot as a concern on par with how Colorado law enforcement now needs to adjust budgeting after losing revenue from marijuana-related crimes. 

While the loss of money is a potential issue, one could also argue that traffic cops would no longer be needed.  But what other issues does this present?  Is speeding no longer an option for anyone?  What about police and emergency vehicles?  We can presume an exception would be made for them, but how would other vehicles on the road interact with a vehicle able to travel at unpredictable speeds?  And what about civilian emergencies?  If your wife goes into labor, would you have to drive the speed limit all the way to the hospital? What if you really, really need to use the bathroom after a hot wing challenge?  This is serious stuff.

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If cars no longer rely on drivers, would it be necessary to have a driver’s license at all after that?  And whether or not it is, how do you then decide at what age someone is responsible to operate a vehicle?  If the car is ultra-safe and drives itself, what stops a 6 year old from hopping in the car and telling it to drive him to Disney World?

In a world with driverless cars, when a guy delivers you pizza, do you bother to tip him?  He literally could have been naked and napping the whole way over. This makes taxi drivers questionable as well.  Anyone who owns and operates a cab would be a glorified babysitter, just in the vehicle to make sure you don’t vandalize it, pass out or use it as a temporary humporium.  Speaking of which, if you could trust a car to drive itself, the amount of people you see on the road actually having sex while in transit would skyrocket. 

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 If the whole system is computer guided, what happens when some Black Hat thinks it’d be funny to hack your Lamborghini and force you to drive to gay spas or maybe just send you to Mexico?  Will anyone ever buy a novelty steering wheel cover again?  And could OnStar simply take your car over and drive you to the nearest police station if there were some evidence you’d committed a crime, legit or not, in their database?

If driverless cars are a risk to police bottom line, what will insurance companies do?  Auto insurance is a $200 billion industry.  What’s the point in paying insurance on a car that is designed to never have an accident?  With that kind of money behind insurance, what are the odds some lobbyists won’t push hard to find flaws in the driverless car system?  And that leads one to ask – would our government trade tens of thousands of lives (34,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2012) for that much money?  Would your insurance company?  You know the answer, even if you don’t like it.

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It’s very likely lobbyists will frame this as a freedom issue – they’ll want to support your right and your freedom to drive and not let the government take it away from you, while secretly this will all be about keeping victims on the road to make money from insurance.  But this poses another question – do you have a right to drive?  Since when?  It’s certainly not an inalienable right that you operate your own vehicle.  It’s absolutely a freedom, but is our society so immersed in its own limitless freedoms that they no longer see the difference between the two?  And would you give up that freedom if it meant saving 34,000 lives a year, never paying insurance again, and preventing nearly 3 million accidents? 

On the flips ide of the coin, how many ways could someone exploit a driverless car to make money?  We already operate on a system that allows for faster traffic in the left lane.  If you’re on long commutes, who’s to say access to a faster lane couldn’t be restricted to car owners who had paid a premium for the service?  Or maybe those willing to have ads broadcast across their digital windshield, turning the inside of the car into a commercial for the Shake Weight in exchange for getting to their final destination an hour earlier.

At the end of the day, we have the technology, so the question is, do you want it? 

You can follow me on Twitter, in a driverless car or a regular one.  Or an office chair.  Whatevs.