Some contend that self-driving cars are the future of automobiles.

The interior of a self-driving car.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, said recently that although he loves “the idea of being out on an open road that’s curvy and fun, when you’re driving and really getting into it,” he implied that 99% of the time, driving is not necessarily that much fun, Jillian D’Onfro reported for Business Insider. Brin, the new owner of a Tesla SUV, was speaking at a panel Google held about its self-driving cars. Google has no plans to sell autonomous cars, but rather plans to partner with manufacturers so its software and other technology can be used in other companies’ vehicles.

Brin made his statement driving in response to an Australian journalist who asked him, “How dare you mess with the relationship between the car lover and their car? Is the goal here a future without human drivers?”

The Downside of Driving

Much of the time we spend driving involves stop-and-go traffic, red lights, long distances on boring highways, and searching for parking spaces, D’Onfro writes. Even worse, 1.2 million people around the world are killed annually as a result of vehicle accidents, more than 33,000 of those in the United States. “During the panel, the new CEO of the self-driving car program, John Krafcik, equated that to five Boeing 737 aircrafts crashing every week.” On a more hopeful note regarding crashes, D’Onfro notes Google’s self-driving cars are already a lot safer and smarter than humans are.

In an article for Fusion, Kevin Roose takes the extreme position that “Driving should be illegal,” as the headline declares. He related a fictional scenario in which science creates a miracle drug that radically and dramatically boosts human performance. In that scenario, millions begin taking the drug, but it has the unfortunate side effect of killing lots of people, more than a million a year, and severely injuring tens of millions more. “This is, to a first approximation, the situation we currently face with cars,” Roose wrote.

Self-Driving Cars on the Horizon

He goes on to say we are lucky to be living in a time when self-driving cars are on the horizon, being developed by Google, Mercedes, Tesla, and others. In the past several years, they have been tested for millions of miles, collectively, and the few accidents they have been in have been caused by the human drivers of other cars, Roose writes.

Roose goes on to say:

The most important thing about self-driving cars is that they are utterly inevitable. They are too superior, too obviously beneficial to humanity, and too technologically feasible not to eventually overtake human-piloted vehicles and become the default standard of transportation all over the world. As Buzzfeed’s Mat Honan put it, ‘the efficient, unemotional, necessary logic of cars that operate without human error and instability is unquestionable.’ Decades from now, our descendants will react in horror when we tell them about car culture. ‘You mean, you used to drive those things … yourselves?’

According to some researchers, as many as 1 million traffic deaths will be prevented annually by mid-century. At first, only the wealthy will be able to afford them. The dominance of such vehicles will be opposed by such groups as traditional carmakers, cab drivers, long-haul truck drivers, and others whose jobs and businesses the self-driving vehicles will put out of business.

Banning Driving?

“Driving must be banned,” Roose writes. He opines that if governments created laws banned driving tomorrow, car makers would be motivated to get self-driving vehicles on the market as soon as possible. And because “Funding would pour into autonomous driving R&D efforts, the cost of production would nosedive, and affordable self-driving cars could become a reality far sooner than expected.”

Such a move would save thousands of lives in the U.S. alone, and would have a significant and lasting impact on world health, Roose writes. A nice side effect would be an enormous reduction of traffic congestion in large cities, creating a better quality of life.

Roose suggests that the government could issue tax credits to makers of self-driving cars, and cash rewards for consumers who trade in their human-driven ones in a cash-for-clunkers type of program. Subsidies could help low-income families buy self-driving vehicles, and eventually, fines could be issued for anyone driving a vehicle.

Roose groups together nationalism, masculinity, and driving in the U.S., saying those three things will make the cultural primacy of cars nearly impossible to remove. For those who think it is difficult to get a ban on any types of firearms, “Try taking away [the] wheels [of those who love driving].”

Image by Michael Bumann, under Creative Commons license.

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