Self-Driving Cars Will Be a Disaster for Our Environment, Our Health, and Our Privacy
A transportation revolution doesn’t have to include autonomous vehicles
If you’ve listened to the musings of some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent visionaries, you might believe we’re headed toward a future with ubiquitous autonomous vehicles to shuttle us wherever we want to go.
No longer would we have to risk getting stuck in traffic, caught in the rain on our bikes, or running into serial killers on the subway — we’d all be closed off in our own pods that guide us to our destination as we sleep, watch a video, or get up to something steamy in the back.
I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but that future has always been an illusion. If self-driving cars ever become a reality — and that’s a big “if” — they won’t be the magic transport cure-all that tech billionaires pretend they’ll be. Sure, they would likely provide benefits for Silicon Valley CEOs, but a lot of people would be made worse off — and we would hardly ever hear about it.
The real transportation revolution doesn’t involve two-ton death machines or hyperintelligent computers, but more common technologies like buses, bicycles, and our own legs. You won’t hear that from Elon Musk or Sergey Brin because rebuilding cities to focus on people won’t necessarily generate big, ongoing profits for their firms. But that’s exactly what we need to do.
Back in January 2018, when self-driving cars were still a topic of great excitement, I wrote that they were much further away than tech companies were leading us to believe.
Then, on the night of March 18, 2018, an Uber self-driving vehicle was doing a test run when it struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the road on her bicycle. At the time, people were quick to blame the safety driver who wasn’t looking at the road, but then leaks began to show Uber’s self-driving team was under immense pressure to deliver. It wasn’t until recently that we found out that Uber’s self-driving team didn’t program the system to consider that people might cross the street outside designated crosswalks. As a result, the car couldn’t figure out what it was…