The Moral Case for Self-Driving Cars

Welcoming our new robot chauffeurs


Tesla, Nissan, Google, and several carmakers have declared that they will have commercial self-driving cars on the highways before the end of this decade. Experts at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict that 75 percent of cars will be self-driving by 2040. So far California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly legalizing self-driving vehicles, and many other states are looking to do so.

The coming era of autonomous autos raises concerns about legal liability and safety, but there are good reasons to believe that robot cars may exceed human drivers when it comes to practical and even ethical decision making.

More than 90 percent of all traffic accidents are the result of human error. In 2011, there were 5.3 million automobile crashes in the United States, resulting in more than 2.2 million injuries and 32,000 deaths. Americans spend $230 billion annually to cover the costs of accidents, accounting for approximately 2 to 3 percent of GDP.

Proponents of autonomous cars argue that they will be much safer than vehicles driven by distracted and error-prone humans. The longest-running safety tests have been conducted by Google, whose autonomous vehicles have traveled more than 700,000 miles so far with only one accident (when a human driver rear-ended the car). So far, so good.

Stanford University law professor Bryant Walker Smith, however, correctly observes that there are no engineered systems that are perfectly safe. Smith has roughly calculated that "Google's cars would need to drive themselves more than 725,000 representative miles without incident for us to say with 99 percent confidence that they crash less frequently than conventional cars." Given expected improvements in sensor technologies, algorithms, and computation, it seems likely that this safety benchmark will soon be met.

Still, all systems fail eventually. So who will be liable when a robot car-howsoever rarely-crashes into someone?

An April 2014 report from the good-government think tank the Brookings Institution argues that the current liability system can handle the vast majority of claims that might arise from damages caused by self-driving cars. A similar April 2014 report from the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) largely agrees, "Products liability is an area that may be able to sufficiently evolve through common law without statutory or administrative intervention."

A January 2014 RAND Corporation study suggests that one way to handle legal responsibility for accidents might be to extend a no-fault liability system, in which victims recover damages from their own auto insurers after a crash. Another RAND idea would be to legally establish an irrebuttable presumption of owner control over the autonomous vehicle. Legislation could require that "a single person be responsible for the control of the vehicle. This person could delegate that responsibility to the car, but would still be presumed to be in control of the vehicle in the case of a crash."

This would essentially leave the current liability system in place. To the extent that liability must be determined in some cases, the fact that self-driving cars will be embedded with all sorts of sensors, including cameras and radar, will provide a pretty comprehensive record of what happened during a crash.

Should we expect robot cars to be more ethical than human drivers? In a fascinating March 2014 Transportation Research Record study, Virginia Tech researcher Noah Goodall wonders about "Ethical Decision Making During Automated Vehicle Crashes." Goodall observes that engineers will necessarily install software in automated vehicles enabling them to "predict various crash trajectory alternatives and select a path with the lowest damage or likelihood of collision."

To illustrate the challenge, Stanford's Smith considers a case in which you are driving on a narrow mountain road between two big trucks. "Suddenly, the brakes on the truck behind you fail, and it rapidly gains speed," he imagines. "If you stay in your lane, you will be crushed between the trucks. If you veer to the right, you will go off a cliff. If you veer to the left, you will strike a motorcyclist. What do you do? In short, who dies?"

Fortunately such fraught situations are rare. Although it may not be the moral thing to do, most drivers will react in ways that they hope will protect themselves and their passengers. So as a first approximation, autonomous vehicles should be programmed to choose actions that aim to protect their occupants.

Once the superior safety of driverless cars is established, they will dramatically change the shape of cities and the ways in which people live and work.

Roadway engineers estimate that typical highways now accommodate a maximum throughput of 2,200 human-driven vehicles per lane per hour, utilizing only about 5 percent of roadway capacity. Because self-driving cars would be safer and could thus drive closer and faster, switching to mostly self-driving cars would dramatically increase roadway throughput. One estimate by the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research in November 2013 predicts that a 50 percent autonomous road fleet would boost highway capacity by 22 percent; an 80 percent robot fleet will goose capacity 50 percent, and a fully automated highway would see its throughput zoom by 80 percent.

Autonomous vehicles would also likely shift the way people think about car ownership. Currently most automobiles are idle most of the day in driveways or parking lots as their owners go about their lives. Truly autonomous vehicles make it possible for vehicles to be on the road much more of the time, essentially providing taxi service to users who summon them to their locations via mobile devices. Once riders are done with the cars, the vehicles can be dismissed to serve other patrons. Self-driving cars will also increase the mobility of the disabled, elderly, and those too young to drive.

Researchers at the University of Texas, devising a realistic simulation of vehicle usage in cities that takes into account issues such as congestion and rush hour patterns, found that if all cars were driverless each shared autonomous vehicle could replace 11 conventional cars. In their simulations, riders waited an average of 18 seconds for a driverless vehicle to show up, and each vehicle served 31 to 41 travelers per day. Less than one half of one percent of travelers waited more than five minutes for a ride.

By one estimate in a 2013 study from Columbia University's Earth Institute, shared autonomous vehicles would cut an individual's average cost of travel by as much as 75 percent compared to now. There are some 600 million parking spaces in American cities, occupying about 10 percent of urban land. In addition, 30 percent of city congestion originates from drivers seeking parking spaces close to their destinations. A fleet of shared driverless cars would free up lots of valuable urban land while at the same time reducing congestion on city streets. During low demand periods, vehicles would go to central locations for refueling and cleaning.

Since driving will be cheaper and more convenient, demand for travel will surely increase. People who can work while they commute might be willing to live even farther out from city centers. But more vehicle miles traveled would not necessarily translate into more fuel burned. For example, safer autonomous vehicles could be built much lighter than conventional vehicles and thus consume less fuel. Smoother acceleration and deceleration would reduce fuel consumption by up to 10 percent. Optimized autonomous vehicles could cut both the fuel used and pollutants emitted per mile. And poor countries could "leapfrog" to autonomous vehicles instead of embracing the personal ownership model of the 20th century West.

If driverless cars are in fact safer, every day of delay imposes a huge cost. People a generation hence will marvel at the carnage we inflicted as we hurtled down highways relying on just our own reflexes to keep us safe.

NEXT: Congress Can't Be Trusted to Edit Wikipedia? What About Screwing With the Laws?

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  1. Experts at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict

    So….Top Men.

    1. In this case, top men in the actual relevant fields of engineering, so they might be onto something.

      1. Ah, the right Top Men! Finally!

        Really, dude?

        1. As in, not coercive top men. Really, dude. I don’t recall anything being said about mandating automatic vehicles. If so, I missed it.

          1. He’s right. The article is incomplete.

            The facts on the ground: Technology is rapidly making driverless vehicles viable. These devices would, if implemented, result in all sorts of freedoms and conveniences while reducing costs and drastically reducing death and injury. And so far, governments seems to be reacting to this development not with panic and fearmongering and the urge to regulate and “protect,” but with open arms. That’s newsworthy.

            But reporting on this technological development for a libertarian publication should also mean reporting on the likely negative side of the endgame: the eventual abolition of driving. We hear all the time about how most young people view cars as merely a way to get from A to B–an increase in freedom and convenience at times, but with actual driving as a nuisance they must put up with for that benefit. How long after the development of driverless cars do you think the public will put up with the quirky dinosaurs who insist on operating this machinery that kills innocent people at 50 (or whatever) times the rate, for no better reason than their own sense of “fun”? Driving for pleasure will be limited to private courses. How could it not be? The government has implemented, and the public clamored for, countless limitations on personal liberty that have far less legitimacy than this.

            1. …It’s been pretty easy to see this coming, btw. One of the things that amused me most about the new Star Trek was the scene where young pubescent Kirk joyrides in his dad’s old Corvette. I remember thinking about how ridiculous it looked that anyone would be allowed to drive a car, emissions-modified or not, in a future with a fraction of the collectivism of the Star Trek universe (for example, the actual likely future). Looked instantly about as laughably off-base as all those earlier sci-fi movies that show “future” people openly smoking cigarettes.

              1. And listening to 200 year old pop music while doing it.

                Has anyone joyrode a horse to “Anacreon in Heaven” in this century?

                1. I have…and it was CAPITAL! But my middle name is Tiberius and I am from Iowa.

  2. there are good reasons to believe that robot cars may exceed human drivers when it comes to practical and even ethical decision making

    I understand that the robot car will automatically switch from the road in which five people are lying in order to go onto the road where only one is lying, but I’m not so clear on what it does when a fat man falls into its path.

    1. The real question is, will another robot car eject it’s driver to divert the one headed for those people?

  3. I’m just finishing The Black Swan. Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think that most of these predictions will be proven laughably wrong.

    1. Tyrone Power/Maureen O’Hara Black Swan, Curb Your Enthusiasm Black Swan or some other Black Swan?

      1. I think he means Nassim Taleb’s book on cause and effect.

        1. Thx Jensen. Been around here a while, but hadn’t picked up on Taleb.

      2. Anti-Fra-Gee-Lay

    2. Most predictions are.

  4. A January 2014 RAND Corporation study suggests that one way to handle legal responsibility for accidents might be to extend a no-fault liability system, in which victims recover damages from their own auto insurers after a crash.

    And if the victims are pedestrians without auto insurance?

    1. They are fucked. But don’t bother Ron with the facts. He is busy getting his “Top Men” on.

      1. In a no fault state, you return to your own carrier for moving accidents, but in the case of striking a parked car, house, person, etc, the one getting hit may receive full coverage from the at fault party. `

      2. I’m not entirely sold on autonomous cars being a great idea. But if we are going to live in a high tech society with increasing automation in just about every area (and that seems both inevitable and desirable in many ways), you sometimes have to leave most of the details of certain things in the hands of experts and specialists (i.e. Top Men).

    2. If by “no-fault”, he means “assumption of the risk”, I’d support that.

    3. “Another RAND idea would be to legally establish an irrebuttable presumption of owner control over the autonomous vehicle. Legislation could require that “a single person be responsible for the control of the vehicle”

      Presently, if your brand new brakes fail due to faulty manufacturing, you can sue for damages. So RAND’s idea is that if your vehicle has a faulty autopilot device you can’t sue the manufacturer? This legislation would NEVER pass! What a terrible idea.

      I think Bailey should stop using RAND studies.

      1. An irrebuttable presumption of owner control over the autonomous vehicle doesn’t mean the owner can’t sue a manufacturer for a defective part. What it does mean is that a third party can’t sue the manufacturer directly. And since this is generally abused (google deep pockets liability) it’s probably an improvement on the current system.

  5. Except for long highway slogs, I enjoy driving: rowing through the gears, jabbing the clutch ‘n’ gas pedals, getting the straight-6 singing, and testing the grip on the corners.

    The future seems like an increasingly dull place.

    1. The future seems like an increasingly dull place.

      I used to have a job that required a CDL and operating was fun.

      Now, however, the type of enjoyable driving you describe, for me, is the rarity, not the norm.

      I imagine self-driving cars to increase availability/exposure to more enjoyable driving.

    2. “The future seems like an increasingly dull place.”


  6. If driverless cars are in fact safer, every day of delay imposes a huge cost.

    For the childrunz!

    People a generation hence will marvel at the carnage we inflicted as we hurtled down highways relying on just our own reflexes to keep us safe.

    No they won’t. Just like kids today don’t marvel at the carnage that was inflicted on kids who rode without safety belts or were forced to ‘just get’ chickenpox.

    They’ll have some vague notion that things used to be worse than they are now and Top Men and regulations made things better (regardless of whether the Top Men or the regulations actually did).

  7. Sensing and automation is going to have enormous impacts on the way automobiles are operated in the not too distant future. But when it comes to sitting in the seat; saying “OK Google, take me to work”; well, that just ain’t gonna happen in the next 30 or 40 years.

    1. 10-15 years ago, would you have predicted than an entire generation would voluntarily publish almost all of their personal lives online for the whole world to see? Attitudes can change, and quickly. I just suspect they will do so in response to things very few, if anyone, sees coming.

      1. LP#: Not everything is a black swan – there are lots more white swans than black ones (although black ones may be outbreeding white ones in England).

        And as Yogi Berra wisely said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

        1. No doubt. And I do think an overall trend towards self-driving cars is likely. But specific predictions like 75% self-driving in 40 years? It could be wrong in any direction, but it will probably be wrong.

          1. Well, specific predictions are wrong 97.2% of the time.

    2. I just want to be able to program which exit I will be taking on limited access highways. That will take the bitch out of long distance drives while still allowing for the fun driving on twisty backwoods roads.

      1. Several luxury automakers are already putting adaptive cruise control and emergency braking in autos to ensure proper following distances on highways.

        So it’s quite feasible to build a system where you could drive 120 miles an hour on a limited access freeway and the computer would perform all steering and speed controls.

        But that’s only going to work if everyone has a computer driving their car.

        It will still take 20 years to build a network of freeways that segregates computer driven cars from people driven cars.

        1. And it won’t be allowed around Martha’s Vineyard because it will spoil the Kennedys’ view.

  8. I believe Bailey ignores what seems to be a deep-seated “quirk” of American culture. One factor that led to the Soviets beating America to manned spaceflight was that cosmonauts were perfectly fine with being “spam in a can”, that is riding in vessels that had computer (or via telemetry) controlled ascent, orbiting and deorbiting. American astronauts flat-out refused to ride in crafts that they couldn’t pilot; therefore, the training schedules of the early astronauts were longer than that of early cosmonauts (though, I’m not taking anything away from the accomplishments of those early cosmonauts).

    I’ve heard of similar cultural differences that influence the workings of the autopilot systems installed in Boeing vs. Airbus airliners. I don’t know if that particular anecdote is true, but its existence speaks to the large truth that Americans are hesitant to cede control to a machine-piloted craft.

    1. This. I would not want an autopilot car unless I could switch off the autopilot at will.

    2. I agree with HM – I think Bailey is underestimating American’s reluctance to give up control of the vehicles.

      Also, I think he’s overestimating American’s desire to “share” their vehicles. Maybe he should take a look at those high occupancy lanes on the highway (if his state has them). The theory is that the lanes dedicated to 2 or more people will encourage people to carpool. Those lanes are always complete empty!

      Not to mention that lots people actually like to drive (see Lord Humungus’ comment thread)

    3. A people culturally known for having an independent streak may not want to trust something else to get them where they’re going? It cannot be!

  9. Hey Ron, I don’t morally owe you giving up my sovereignty and right to choose how I go from one place to another. Screw you. I am not giving up driving because you and various other nitwits are convinced of its morality.

    1. Spoken like a man with a porsche.

    2. John: You can go anywhere you want – just tell the car where you want to go and then sit back and relax.

      1. I don’t find the act of being driven relaxing in any way.

        1. I don’t find the act of being driven relaxing in any way.

          Even when provided with a jar of Grey Poupon?

        2. I don’t find the act of being driven relaxing in any way.

          Really? I find that hard to believe. I love driving, but there’s a -lot- to be said for getting that extra half-hour nap in on the way to work… or reading the paper… or doing pretty much anything but dealing with rush hour traffic.

          -NOBODY- enjoys rush hour traffic.

          1. This is why I will never voluntarily live where I have to get on the rush hour hamster wheel.

            Bailey has some good points in this article, but quickly divurges into a communist, toalitarian, ‘utopia’ of transportation. Community cars? Think of the inside of the last taxi you were in. Now remove the Cabbie yelling at the college student who throws up in in and makes him clean it out. Who is responsible for cleaning these rolling latrines? I want nothing to do with that future.

            1. Yeah, like the greedy capitalist who owns a car service is going to let that happen. If he does, some other greedy capitalist will advertise guaranteed clean cars.

              These aren’t community cars any more than UberX is community cars.

              Economics, how does it work?

          2. I enjoy rush hour traffic. Every day is an opportunity to objectively measure in car lengths how much better I am than the idiots that surround me.

      2. No. Ron, it is about how I get there. Seriously, you would take away people’s ability to drive themselves? That is frightening.

        This is the kind of thing you get with rule by nerd. Only a fucking nerd would not see how horrific that is.

        1. Seriously, you would take away people’s ability to drive themselves? That is frightening.

          Ok, I know I’m jumping in the middle here, but I think that’s an assertion that hasn’t been made yet. If automated vehicles are mandated by law, I’d oppose that entirely; however, having the choice to knock back a few cold ones on my way home from work while endangering nobody has a certain appeal to me.

          1. so, what if a robocar owner wants to participate in a ride share program? Since we know govt can mine the reservation data, can they just wait until the pickup happens and route the car to Leavenworth?

            How about if I leave a store with a fully purchased product and the clerk failed to remove the anti-theft device? Will the robot detain me until the authorities can be summoned?

            What if a group of Boy Scouts passes a Border station in Alaska and as they are departing the agent sees them snap a photo. Can the robocar be instructed to return?

            This is a bad idea with no upside. As is usual with freedom haters, they hate freedom.

            1. Uh, the upside is lower commute times and increased safety.

            2. And this is different from the today’s surveillance state how? Only in that they can control your car rather than hunt you down later. I’m not sold on remote controlled cars anyway – I want a robocar that doesn’t need outside information.

      3. And Ron, which part of “how I go” did you miss? the How is as important as the where.

        Again, this is why nerds should not be allowed anywhere near authority.

        1. “It’s not transportation unless I’m wading through a foot of horse shit!”

          –John circa 1910

      4. just tell the car where you want to go and then sit back and relax.

        Yeah, ‘cuz Windows 95 was such a treat; “Where do you want to go today?”

    3. Hey John, who the fuck said anything about banning human-driver cars? No doubt, idiot progressives will take up that cause eventually, but a future with driverless cars =/= a world without drivers.

  10. A surprising amount of Luddism in the comments. No amount of “I like driving” or “Americans like to control things with their manly hands” trumps the vast reductions in injuries and deaths that automated cars (let’s call them auto-mobiles) will bring. And I know I’m not alone in finding driving stressful and rage-inducing. Having a driver is second only to having a cook on my domestic servant wish list. All the better if they’re robots I don’t have to pay or house.

    Apparently an interesting question with respect to liability will be whether people are allowed the freedom to turn off autopilot and thus increase the risk of everyone around them. Kind of a metaphor for many of the discussions that go on here.

    1. But I LIKE driving.

      1. Will you be satisfied with designated recreational driving areas? Driving for sport surely won’t disappear, just as horse riding for sport hasn’t, but that doesn’t happen on city streets.

        1. Neither does using horses as regular transportation so your analogy fails.

          1. You’re all being very silly.

            1. That’s certainly a cogent counterpoint.

        2. I’m for more recreational driving, but also the freedom to drive without the ability to be tracked by a computer. There will still be a demand for freedom. In crowded metro areas driverless will be benefit as long as it can be turned off.

    2. And I know I’m not alone in finding driving stressful and rage-inducing.

      So clearly the rest of us who enjoy driving should stop because it is our moral duty to make the world as you would prefer it.

      1. 32,000 deaths makes it a moral question.

        Just how many human lives are the cost of your freedom to engage in your personal hobbies?

        Add up cars and guns and we’re talking a serious body count.

        1. “Add up cars and guns and we’re talking a serious body count”

          What about bats, and knives, and bathtubs, and stairs, and ladders, and bad weather, poor eating habits, and not exercising, and…

          FUCK OFF, SLAVER!

          1. How about we proceed with new technologies that save thousands of lives, and you retain the freedom to eat an entire pizza before throwing yourself down a flight of stairs?

        2. 32,000 deaths is .01% of the population. That is a rounding error.

          And most gun deaths are suicides. People who want to kill themselves are going to find a way to do it even if you take their guns away.

          1. No they aren’t. Guns make the decision rather final. If that weren’t the case, then guns wouldn’t need protecting as tools of self-defense, n’est-ce pas? Are they especially efficient at killing or aren’t they?

            1. Alcohol poisoning makes the decision rather final too. Guess we need to repeal that 21st amendment.

              Guns only need protecting because pants-wetting shitheads like yourself are scared of them. Of course, you’re not too scared of them to allow certain people to have them, you know for when the time comes to line us up against the wall cause we don’t agree with you.

              Even if you were able to prove that libertarianism was this horrible evil thing that you purport it to be (since we don’t have anything near a minimal government or a free market don’t even bother trying to say otherwise), we’d still be more moral and just than you and people like you will ever be for the simple fact that we don’t think it’s okay to round up our political foes and cap them in the head.

            2. When talking about suicide, they’re no more efficient than jumping off a suitably high place, a razor to an artery, hanging yourself, or hara-kiri.

              Do you need any more suggestions?

              1. They aren’t?

            3. Tony:

              No they aren’t. Guns make the decision rather final.

              Seriously, this is an issue? Regulating suicide such that it’s less successful?

              1. Yes. There is research on this. Many attempted suicides regret the attempt. Successful suicides don’t get the opportunity.

                1. Lots of people regret lots of things.

                  Seriously, this is an issue?

                  1. Yeah. I’m sure lots of women regret marrying that violent asshole. Except the dead ones.

                    1. One of the best defenses one can have against stupid assholes, is not marrying them.

      2. John – when you’re done hate-fucking tony and Ron, let us know when you want to rejoin the rational conversation.

        I would never advocate that anybody (who passes a driving test – I’m not an anarchist) have to give up driving themselves – yea though it mean less safety for me, but I’ll be goddamned if I let you get in the way of me getting the laws changed so that I can be allowed to ride all over town in my robocar.

    3. Ah, Tony, allow me to draw your attention to a rebuttal of one of your silly statements from the weekend threads.…..nt_4665622

    4. No amount of freedom is too much to sacrifice “if it saves just one life”, right?

      1. No amount of lives sacrificed is too many as long as you get to enjoy a meaningless freedom, right?

        1. Meaningless freedom. That statement alone proves your stupidity, or at least the fact that you are just a troll. Which is my theory.

        2. Well, we could just ban all cars now, on the assumption that saving lives is more important than meaningless freedom.

          That’s not really how cost-benefit works.

          1. I’m the one agreeing with the premise of this article that once we have self-driving cars, we will have a cost-benefit bonanza.

            Anyone saying we should resist this innovation because “freedom” is saying that the tens of thousands of deaths are worth the freedom to drive a car yourself. I’m saying fuck you, immoral pig, to use the words of a certain regular.

            1. But, you’re missing the point. We already say that tenths of thousands of deaths are worth the freedom to drive cars…ourselves.

    5. The risk to other drivers of turning off autopilot is insignificant.

      Your average driver does 150,000+ miles between accidents.

      I’m with you on the cooking.

    6. But what about the jobs for the low skilled?

      Kidding – I spend far too much of my time behind the wheel in commuter rush hour traffic and would love to leave the driving to a computer.

  11. But then how will our heroes in blue be able to extort money from people?

    1. And what about the loss of jobs at the flashbang factories?!

      When every car you er… a felon gets into is programmed to drop you off at the local police station, how will the SWAT teams continue to issue no-knock warrants?

  12. Skynet starts out as a chauffeur, you know.

  13. The problem is, if the car is driving then I will accept no legal liability for a crash. None.

    I can see an exception for cars outside maintenance schedules, overloaded, or otherwise compromised.

    However, if I’m paying for a car that does all the driving, it takes all the blame too. And I doubt any carmaker will ever do that.

    1. You ever owned a dog, friendo?

    2. Well, it could get interesting.

      Let’s say someone has their wonderful automatic driving car, but they fail to do regular scheduled maintenance.

      Then, one day, they plow over a pedestrian in a crosswalk while on auto pilot. And, they do an investigation and it’s revealed that a sensor wasn’t properly aligned, one that should be checked at regular intervals by a technician, and it caused the car to see the pedestrian too late to avoid the accident.

      So, who’s at fault?

      Personally, I don’t like the idea of finding myself in a trial over running down a pedestrian because of a maintenance issue, because I loved the idea of sitting in the back seat on my iPad while going to work.

  14. Another invention to keep people dumb. Already, no one remembers phone numbers or dirrections. We carry hundreds of songs and pictures and none of them are special anymore. The less people think, use their heads and their memory, the more mentally weak they get.

  15. From Wiki:

    Google’s robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 lidar (light radar) system. The range finder mounted on the top is a Velodyne 64-beam laser. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.

    Currently (as of June 2014), the system works with a very high definition inch-precision map of the area the vehicle is expected to use, including how high the traffic lights are; in addition to on-board systems, some computation is performed on remote computer farms

    By the way, LIDAR can’t see through all weather conditions. So when I really want Google to get me home after work in white-out conditions, it’s just going to puke and say “so sorry”.

    1. I would assume Google is aware of the shortcomings.

      1. I would assume Ron Bailey isn’t.

        1. B: Assume what you will.

      2. Google is doing wonderful science that will have great, near-term benefits to everyone.

        But Google is not going to field a driverless vehicle that can go anywhere, anyday in the next 6 years.

        There is a dramatic difference between what is possible and what is practical.

        1. I may not have read the article very well, but while I agree it is not likely to be mainstream in the near future, I would have no problem riding in one (and would like to) if available.

          Of course, cost is important. I think buying cars in general is one most Americans always fuck up. I am always going to prefer driving cars into the ground and then buying a lightly used car. Self driving cars would have to become a lot cheaper for me to buy one over a Honda I would have to drive myself.

    2. Obviously government subsidies will be needed to bring the price down to acceptable levels. But IF IT SAVES JUST ONE LIFE IT’S WORTH IT, right?

      1. “Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both”

    3. EVERYONE should be forced to purchase $200,000 cars.

      1. With a subsidy to “make them affordable”for the majority of people, but only in states that have set up state ruin dealerships to sell them… But wait, what’s this? 36 states have failed to set up the necessary dealerships? Behind the text of the law, says the IRS, more everybody can haz subsidy.

        1. “state ruin dealerships”

          Nice mistype. I whole-heartedly approve.

  16. I don’t fully get all the hate here. I get the concern over coercion about forcing everyone into driverless cars.
    But even if that will be the case, the transition will require a way to accommodate both types, and there is no guarantee that roads will progress beyond mixed use.
    I hate driving. Let those who love it, or can’t afford a new car, have some lanes, and those who think driving is a hassle have others.
    That seems like the most libertarian solution.
    And John, easy with the nerd hate, you sound like Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds.

    1. They won’t “force” everyone into driverless cars per se. They will pass regulations making insurance for human-driven cars prohibitively expensive.

  17. Just lie back and think of England enjoy the ride.

  18. Maybe this can be made to work in a laboratory. Labs are nowhere near as messy as the real world. I love technology, but I hate technology with an opinion. This sounds like the latter rather than the former. I keep seeing predictions of “automated” systems that are going to come on line shortly, and I keep reading about how such systems turned out to be brats when faced with the real world. I don’t think we want to find out how automated driving systems would screw up; the possibilities are gruesome.

    In any case; automated driving would not take human error out of the system. It would simply ensure that any human errors were replicated thousands of times. Humans would program the cars, without actually being present for the driving. I’m sure they would try very hard to think of every way that their system could get into trouble, and I am equally sure they would fail.

    1. There are already driverless cars! They perform well, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be a vast improvement on individual drivers in terms of safety and efficiency.

      I just don’t get the technophobia going on here–something strangely common among people who worship the innovative powers of capitalism. Don’t think of them as cars, think of them as individualized train compartments with invisible couplings.

      1. I just don’t get the technophobia going on here–something strangely common among people who worship the innovative powers of capitalism.

        If the car read my brainwaves and decided how to drive based on them, I think many/most would be cool with that.

        It’s the “I get in the car and passively go where it decides.” aspect of things that piss many of us off.

        It’s not technophobia, it’s about having freedom or control taken from you. You’re distinctly blurring the line to turn legitimate moral questions into straw men for you to knock down.

      2. There is not a single poster on this entire board that is a self-described libertarian or anarchist that is a “technophobe”.

      3. In time, this technology will be robust and generally accepted … If it isn’t pushed as mandatory, subsudised, and far too early. I couod see making driving yourself a special insurance liability, based on actuarial figures, as an incentive. But I have read to goddamned many of this kind of “this technology is coming, coming soon, it will be wonderful, and we have a moral obligation to use it” articles . They are too often wrng, and when they are rhey create real problems. The spread of impractical electric cars (with batteries that are going to be a nightmare to get rid of) or the mandate pushing compact florescent bulbs (with mercury for extra headaches) are cases in point.

        1. How about the mandate for ethanol mixes pushing the price of food up? Oh, Tony likes that because it screws poor people and there’s nothing Tony likes more than screwing poor people.

          1. I have never once spoken in favor of that.

        2. The problem of battery and bulb disposal is about a trillionth as serious as the problem of global warming.

          1. The problem of global warming is the number of goddamned fools who accept it without question. There hasn’t been any measurable warming for more than a decade and a half. We are seeing snowfall in places that haven’t had snow for more than a century. Solar experts are sayung that we may be in the middle of a solar minimum that could yave the world cooling until 2050.

            Wheras we can say with absolute certainty that compact florescent bulbs contain mercury, thus iif they competely replace incandescent bulbs there may be a problem.,We can also say with certainty that the batteries used in electric cars are a serious disposal problem, which has not yet been adressed.

            Global warming may or may not exist. If it does exist it may or may not be a problem, and we may or may not actually be able to do a damn thing about it.

          2. Electric cars don’t really help with global warming unless paired with hydro or nuclear energy production. Most electric energy is lost in transmission. And recharging would mostly take place when solar was unavailable.

  19. People a generation hence will marvel at the carnage we inflicted as we hurtled down highways relying on just our own reflexes to keep us safe.

    This sentence gets stupider every time I read it. “Our own reflexes” have allowed us to get to the moon and back, circumnavigate the world, and travel to the remotest parts of the world. Why would we view them as a bad thing, or inadequate for an activity that most people manage to do very well?

    This isn’t true of most libertarians, but I wonder how many of them dislike government because they simply see their TOP MAN in a business suit or a lab coat instead of behind a government desk.

  20. Several luxury automakers are already putting adaptive cruise control and emergency braking in autos to ensure proper following distances on highways.

    Fuck that.

    The last thing I need when I’m hacking my way through heavy traffic on a multi-lane highway is the fucking little man in the box stabbing the brakes when I’m shooting a gap between a semi and a minivan.

    Or when I decide to jump out into a double yellow suicide lane to pass two tourists and a horse trailer in the mountains.

    1. TLPB: “last thing” indeed.

    2. Yeah, this. All of the advancements over the last decade are making it clear that I will be holding onto my 2010 Fusion for a good, long time.

      1. Cars are starting to get ‘black boxes’ that could soon be used to tattle on you to the AUTHORITIES and/or the insurance companies.

        This is likely to drive me to never update my vehicle, let alone the concept of taking away my autonomy to drive.

        1. How long will it be before the removal of such bkack boxes s widespread?

          1. Depends on how integrated they are into the vehicle system.

      2. Ya, so that hot rod project with the 1957 Dodge Hemi engine – maybe I should plan on making that more of a daily driver. Carburetors and breaker point ignition (i.e. the absence of all programmable electronics) = nowhere for Big Brother to inject their will in my vehicle, and that = freedom.

    3. Oh, you are one of them.

      An asshole.

  21. WTF|7.28.14 @ 11:39AM|#

    EVERYONE should be forced to purchase $200,000 cars.

    Get ready for a new ACA ~ Affordable Car Act. Congress passes a law mandating the purchase of self-driving cars, after saying they will have to pass the law to find out what is in it, as well as the full coverage insurance. The stated goal of this law will be to increase the number of manufacturers of self-driving cars.

    1. With the ruling on ACA, the Supreme Court basically said Congress can do this. I know you are joking, but still it is a scary thought.

    2. It is just like when VCRs came out and they were $800, and no one could afford to buy one, and you had to rent one that still smelled like Tab soda from the video store. Instead of private industry arriving at recoding and distribution standards, and competition driving down prices and creating innovation, Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill, endorsed by Walter Mondale, to require that families buy Zenith VCRs and subsidize their purchase for poor families.

  22. Has anybody even developed a robotic gimbal coffee cup holder capable of looking through the windshield and anticipating bumps, turns and speed changes in order to proactively keep my balls from getting scalded?

    Wake me up when the little man in the box can read traffic and anticipate the idiotic actions of suicidal drivers like me. And don’t give me any of that weaselly, “In the future, we’re all passengers, safely cocooned in our crashproof rolling salons.”

    You’re not free, if you’re not free to drive like an idiot.

    1. You’re not free if you’re not free to be drunk all the time. This great country of ours was founded by men who were drunk all the damn time because their horse or their carriage man could do the navigating for them.

  23. I’m not at all happy about the idea of trusting my oh-so-fragile body to the programming skill and ethical conclusions of a bunch of nerds sitting up all night getting stoned and writing code.

  24. “People a generation hence will marvel at the carnage we inflicted as we hurtled down highways relying on just our own reflexes to keep us safe.”

    Dramatic nonsense driven by futurist hype. Bailey even mentions the technical limitations in the article, but suddenly we’re all headed to the technoutopia. Great when the science correspondent of a magazine engages in cheap emotional ploys. I also enjoy that his ‘moral case’ is elementary school utilitarianism.

    Seriously Bailey, if you’re praying for the technocrat future, go join Ray Kurzweil and the Church of Cyborg Jesus. ‘Massive centralized system of transportation control because utilitarianism’ is NOT a libertarian argument, its paternalist at its very core.

    1. Yeah commie schemes to save lives on a large scale like mass vaccinations never work out. Sure, smallpox is practically extinct, but at what cost?

      1. Well, if you’re talking about the cost of ‘commie schemes’, around 200 million lives in the 20th century. But I’ve seen you comment on here enough to know that lives don’t matter to you, which makes your attempt at a cheap emotional ploy completely worthless to me.

        You are a poisonous, envious, egotistical little waste of a human being, and I don’t really care what you think. Warren Ellis summed up your childish futurism perfectly:

        “Stop looking for something that isn’t there. You live in the future and you don’t know it. You want your jetpack, but you don’t even think about your IM lenses and your phones. Were you born with them? No. You’re science fictional creatures. Each and every one of you. There’s no future coming. No-one thinks they owe you shit. You’re waiting for a day that’ll never fucking dawn.”

        1. You’re the one who just wrote that an argument in favor of a foreseeable means of practically eliminating 32,000 deaths per year is “elementary school utilitarianism.”

          You said, essentially, that those deaths are a proper price for what amounts to an entirely trivial freedom–you get to steer and brake with your hands and feet (inside government-drawn lines while obeying traffic laws and maintaining liability as required by government, etc., etc.).

          You’re the one being a baby and you’re the one advocating for needless death.

          1. Except you have no way of knowing that it will in fact reduce the number of auto related deaths.

            1. You are completely eliminating the cause of 90% of car accidents.

              No way of knowing, nope. Total mystery forever.

  25. Ron, just sayin’, but if Tony is the only one on here defending your argument, you might want to relook your point of view.

    I know this is is kind a logical fallacy, sort of like AGW concensus argument, but it is still something to consider.

    1. The only reason I’m not defending it, is that I don’t care to debate people who are arguing against an assertion that I never saw made (that automatic vehicles should be mandated). Of course, Ron never denied that attack, so maybe there’s nothing to defend.

    2. I’m often the only one defending the argument presented in the article. I am often more of a Reason libertarian than the socons and curmudgeons who claim they own this space.

      1. Hahahahahahahahaha

  26. I see no benefit of driverless cars have that taxi’s, busses (buses?) airplanes, and subways don’t already provide.

    1. Well, you can force everyone to use them?

    2. Driverless cars would be cheaper than taxis, more personal than buses, less flighty than airplanes, and more direct than subways.

  27. “If driverless cars are in fact safer, every day of delay imposes a huge cost.”

    Apparently, they are not now. I suppose they will be sometime in the future but rushing them in before the technology is ready will delay even longer due to the reaction when a disaster strikes.

  28. Enjoying the ‘reason’ and reasonable comments here. We love our privately owned vehicles if not for one fact, I know my ‘tuberculosis’ is treated and I didn’t hack a bunch of spores into the cabin for the following ‘driver’ to share with me. Paul Newman drove/raced well 500HP+ cars well into his 70’s, use it or loose it. We have a ‘weak’ driver culture, lift some weights. The intellectual arguments are solid here, yet the human spirit and freedom as such, doesn’t want to and will not end up as the embryonic baby of the 2001 Space Odyssey floating in space, nor become a bunch of ‘Spocks’ .. we will take an old Corvette and the smokes because Spock never get’s lade….thankfully

  29. Just as long a Microsoft doesn’t get involved. It would be nothing less than horrifying to be hurling down the Interstate at 70 mph and all of a sudden see the “blue screen of death” on your dashboard. Hmmm, that would actually give the “blue screen of death” a whole new meaning, wouldn’t it?

  30. I have over one million accident-free miles – in cars, trucks from 10-18 wheels, motorcycles. . .

    The robot makers have lots of years and lots of miles to cover before they catch me. . . good luck with that.

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