They’re Coming for Your Cars…

PrawfsBlawg – by Tracy Hresko Pearl

A little over a year ago, as I became fully immersed in my research about driverless cars, I had a conversation with a colleague in which I managed to convince him (I think) that mass adoption of fully driverless vehicles will be an overwhelming net positive for society.  I talked about how these vehicles will dramatically improve highway safety, reduce traffic, increase productivity, and enhance the independence of disabled and elderly individuals.  As the conversation wound down, however, he noted that, despite everything I had said, he would always love driving.  He asked whether, once fully driverless cars are widely available, he would still be able to drive his own car.  I quickly reassured him he would always be able to do so, but as we parted ways, I questioned what I had just told him.  If autonomous vehicle advocates are correct about the dramatic safety gains fully driverless cars stand to offer, might the government eventually outlaw human-driven cars on public roads?    

The more I research and write about this topic, the more I’m convinced that (eventually) the government both will and should.  After over a hundred years of human-driven motor vehicles on U.S. roads, the data is clear and abundant: taken as a whole, human beings are pretty terrible drivers.  According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94% of all driving accidents are caused by human driver error.  We drive drunk, fall asleep at the wheel, make bad decisions, fail to react quickly enough, steal right-of-ways, miss the cars in our blind spots, and panic when it rains or snows.  One recent study, moreover, found that 7.8% of drivers on the road at any moment are texting or using a hand-held phone.  The impacts of these driving deficiencies are staggering.  Each year, motor vehicle accidents kill approximately 33,000 Americans, the equivalent of a major plane crash happening five days a week.  There are several million more non-fatal accidents.

Although the technology is improving and advancing at a fairly blistering pace, there is still a lot of work to be done on fully driverless vehicles before we can say with any level of confidence that they are definitively safer than human-driven cars.  That time, however, is coming, and when it does, experts predict that the safety benefits and reduction in injuries and fatalities will be profound.   Indeed, researchers believe that if even just 10% of the motor vehicles used in the U.S. were fully autonomous, 1,100 fewer people would die on roadways each year.  At 50%, 9,600 lives would be saved and 2 million fewer traffic accidents would occur annually.  At 90%, 21,700 lives would be saved and there would be over 4 million fewer crashes each year.  At that point, one of the most significant public policy questions will be whether we are willing to continue tolerating the risks created by human drivers.  I don’t know how anyone can look at the long history of motor vehicle accident statistics and say, in good faith, that we should.

One of the great questions posed in torts is when a given precaution should be adopted as the standard of care such that those who fail to adopt it can be found to have breached a duty.  In everyone’s favorite tugboat case, The T.J. Hooper, Judge Learned Hand says, essentially, that it doesn’t matter that everyone in an industry has been doing something one way for a very long time, adherence to custom shouldn’t be the final word on whether someone has been negligent.  As technology improves, individuals and companies are obligated to make changes when doing so would greatly reduce the chances of injury, particularly when the burden of making those changes is low.

Switching from human-driven to fully driverless cars is certainly more burdensome than installing weather radios on boats, the issue in The T.J. Hooper, but with significant numbers of car manufacturers actively developing autonomous versions of their vehicles, fifteen or twenty years from now, it may be the case that driverless cars are just as accessible and affordable, and significantly safer than human-driven ones.  When that’s the situation, might the choice to drive your own vehicle be a negligent one? Should the government take that choice away from consumers altogether?

As I noted above, as the technology improves (and human driving presumably doesn’t), I think the answers to those decisions will become fairly clear.  The question is whether public acceptance of these new technologies will keep pace with their development.  Will members of the public embrace their new motor vehicle robot overlords and the safety benefits they offer or, forty years from now, will there be a protester standing on the steps of the Capitol, holding up a steering wheel and proclaiming, “From my cold dead hands”?  And, with driving-related fatalities being what they’ve been, might members of the opposing movement respond, “Exactly”?

6 thoughts on “They’re Coming for Your Cars…

  1. Shove it buddy! The govt. “will and should outlaw human driven cars.” The govt. has NO authority to do such a thing!

    Biggest point here imo is THEY DON’T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT YOU! So, this being done in the name of SAFETY is bull. Same old bait, make it sound like you’re CARED about. NO, they don’t care if you live or die, eat or starve, etc…

  2. This isn’t about saving lives on the highway; no one cares if you live or die.

    It’s about passing a law that forces you to buy a new car, because no one is buying new cars voluntarily anymore.

    They’re too expensive, so people are keeping their old cars running. The big automakers can’t have that, so they’ll develop driver-less cars, and force you behind the wheel of one of them if you want to get to work everyday.

  3. What will come next will be that you can’t go for a walk without supervision?
    This reminds me of the movie ‘Total Recall’ where Aaaarnold gets into a taxi cab driven by a robot.
    This idea is nothing more or less of than corralling the sheeple.
    The PTB will appoint someone with back door access to these vehicle accelerators, the brakes, the door locks etc.
    Someone will know if you’ve been naughty or nice! ‘
    This does not compute.’ repeat, repeat. Don’t ask questions. Obey, Obey. Repeat, Repeat.
    More and more people are unplugging themselves from this idiotic satanic Matrix type system.
    We’re not following the Alice in Wonderland white rabbit down a rabbit trail hole that only leads to more enslavement.
    Death to the New World order punks and have a nice day as you arm yourselves. 🙂

  4. I’m just glad the government will come for my cars.
    Instead of cumming on them.
    I’m sorry that was just fkng wrong.
    But we’re adults here aren’t we…?
    Don’t giggle…
    You may feel some discomfort.

  5. “Should the government take that choice away from consumers altogether?”

    The so-called ‘government’ will continue to take ALL choices away from ‘consumers’ until every last traitor has been hung.

    Let the commie pukes try coming for our GUNS instead.

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