Safer at any speed

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



While it is understandable to wail at the predicted demise of “real” cars at the hands (?) of autonomous vehicles (AV), and all the fun and enjoyment that fossil-fuel clutch-driven performance driving provides, the uproar is directed in interesting directions. There are many reasons to own a vehicle, and driving for pleasure is only one of the many reasons we do.

One of the biggest and most obvious advantages to an AV is of course, safety. An AV can’t drive off of the road through inattention caused by texting, or spilling a drink, or any of the myriad ways people lose control of a vehicle and crash. An AV lets you sit and text, read, and/or do whatever strikes your fantasy as limited by the confines of the vehicle space and your willingness.

However, driving safety is just the tip of the iceberg, and even the tip has depth. An AV can also brake faster than a human, increasing the safety of inanimate objects and individuals not paying attention to the street. Fewer accidents means fewer traffic jams caused by accidents, not to mention a smoother traffic flow.

That smoother traffic flow will significantly improve commute times and save ridiculous amounts of energy. The massive cascading benefits of congestion reduction range from less noise and commotion to lower levels of aggression and road rage. An entire subculture (traffic jams and the resulting social compensation mechanisms) will virtually disappear. So much time and money will be saved that the economic structure in many places will change completely.

To those who lament the ability to “drive” a car, there will always be car clubs and race tracks. (Some would argue that many who drive for fun should be using those already-existing tracks and clubs to get off of the street.) There are already a plethora of great car clubs and race tracks you can join today, and the number of ways to enjoy driving away from the streets will not diminish as sports drivers become more and more bored with the regulated procession smart traffic will become.

There are of course negative issues to address that have nothing to do with safety, nor time and energy efficiency. Most of these issues rotate around worker displacement, as driving for a living will soon be an endangered vocation. There are too many drivers working today to simply let fall on their own resources without seriously damaging the economy.

Human-driven taxis are threatened, as the benefits of on-call systems that will eventually deliver an AV to your door drive out legacy services. Truckers and other goods-transfer labor are threatened by trucks that can go all night without sleep and parcel trucks that launch package-carrying drones. But those are issues for another column.