Lately, I feel like there is so much focus on the negatives associated with driverless vehicles that we have lost focus on the positives. As with any new product, there are going to be glitches (and I think it’s important that government is involved in minimizing these glitches’ impacts on society), but let’s keep our eye on the prize:
- Increased safety! Humans cause the majority of incidents on our roadways today. I believe the folks at CAVCOE said it best when they said “If we assume that within a few years, the data is in and computers are shown to be significantly safer drivers than humans…not perfect, just significantly better. Is it ethical to allow humans to continue to cause all those collisions, deaths and injuries? At what point do the regulatory bodies ban human drivers?”
- Increased mobility! Imagine Grandma getting to her doctor’s appointment on her own, the neighborhood drunk getting home without hurting anyone, and a blind person traveling downtown effortlessly. Driverless vehicles are going to provide a new, convenient, safe mobility option for many people who couldn’t or shouldn’t have been driving before.
- Better use of city space! Driverless vehicles will likely require less wide roads. Also, parking can either be re-located or eliminated (hopefully eliminated) because driverless vehicles will be able to park themselves remotely or (hopefully) increased ride sharing will require a lot less parking. Parking is estimated to take 15-20% of our city’s footprints, so this is a significant amount of land that can be re-purposed – ideally for more bike/ped infrastructure, parks, etc.
- Better throughput! Driverless vehicles will likely be able to travel more closely together (especially with the addition of connected vehicle technology). In theory, they can travel at faster speed limits too. This, combined with less vehicles circulating looking for parking, should allow for more reliable, faster movement in and around our cities.
Please note that all of these benefits are directly in line with most of our city’s goals (e.g., Vision Zero, reduced congestion, increased transportation access, etc). How else do government’s goals align with the benefits of driverless technology?
Great and important summary of the bigger picture, Lauren. Driverless vehicles could also be a boon for those on the lower end of the income spectrum, if the cost of mobility is drops as much as some project (Dr. Stefan Heck has suggested as low as eight to ten cents per mile.
Another benefit is the opportunity to reinvision how we live. We could build cities centered around a public square or park rather than our lives being dominated by asphalt within a few feet of everywhere we reside.
Increased economic prosperity, since less tax dollars will be needed for building new transport infrastructure and maintaining the old. This relates to the fact that driverless vehicles will require narrower roadways, and fewer of them too. The annual transport budget is roughly $80B in the United States, perhaps half that would suffice.