I’ve made the observation that China is an entire country learning to drive at the same time. This is in contrast to people like me who had their learner’s permit at age 16 and their driver’s license shortly thereafter. As a recent report suggests younger Americans are eschewing driver’s licenses at a greater rate than at any time during the past 30 years.
Last week I drove more than 700 miles each way to South Carolina from Connecticut and aside from some traffic on the return trip I enjoyed the ride and being behind the wheel. Google’s self-driving cars will ultimately have my experience be a rarity or even make it extinct. Will the adoption of driverless cars happen by a majority of Americans in the next twenty years?
Is this hard for you to believe? Think about it. Driverless cars are eminently safer than human driven vehicles. On Wednesday Tesla Motors Elon Musk detailed his plans for driverless vehicles. While Mr. Musk prefers to use the term ‘autopilot’, the result is the same. You sit in the car and plug in a destination and off you go. In a world of only self-driving vehicles there would be no more speeding, almost no more accidents (after all even self-driven cars will experience unforeseen things like weather and road conditions that cannot always be forecast), less traffic (I can’t see a day with NO traffic) and no more fun operating a car on the open road. Car insurance rates should also drop dramatically shouldn’t they?
I thought about all these things during my 24 hours of driving last week. How it makes total sense to have auto-piloted vehicles. You plug in your destination, you get a schedule based on traffic forecast, get in the passenger or back seat and you know exactly when you will arrive at your destination – efficient, predictable, and safe. And also, boring. Just like airline, bus, and train travel.
I admit there are many other benefits such as elderly people having the freedom to come and go in their auto-piloted vehicles even after they have lost their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Come to think of it, by the time there’s widespread adoption of driverless automobiles I should be pretty close to having that as my only option. I’ll be happy and sad at the same time.
Driverless cars will make distracted driving a thing of the past. And quite possibly thirty or more years from now it will cost you more to operate your vehicle (if that is allowed at all) should you so desire. Somehow sitting in the passenger seat of a convertible driven by Google just doesn’t have the same thrill and enjoyment as driving yourself.
What do you think? Will you miss getting behind the wheel?