Self-driving vehicles

Driverless Cars and the Revenge of the Moral Equivalent of Hostlers and Horse-Drawn Carriage Makers

A perplexingly stupid op-ed against self-driving cars in The New York Times



Over at The New York Times, the op-ed page is featuring an article that asks, "Google Wants Driverless Cars, but Do We?" Who is the "We" of which author Jamie Lincoln Kitman speaks? Kitman worries about the "millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services, people may buy fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs."

This is akin to asking "Ford Motors wants horseless carriages, but do we?" The nascent automobile industry did not ask permission from the hostlers, hansom cab drivers, horsebreeders, passenger rail companies, and prominent carriage manufacturers like Brewster and Kimball to flood the roads with cheaper, faster, and more convenient transportation. In 1914 there were 4,600 carriage companies operating; by 1929 there were fewer than 90.

Kitman also worries that the advent of driverless cars will force governments (which have not been asked) to spend more on building and maintaining better roadway infrastructure, e.g., fewer potholes and better road marking. Yet, somehow the much bigger infrastructure challenges of the switch from horse-drawn to horseless carriages were met. In 1904, there were about two million miles of public highway, of which 100,000 miles were covered with gravel. There were only 40,000 miles covered with Macadam, a mixture of crushed rock and tar. All the rest were still dirt.

Even more perplexingly, Kitman worries about what will happen to mass transit when people can summon driverless car rides with a tap on their mobile phones. As I explain in my my article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?," switching to fleets of ride-shared driverless vehicles will dramatically reduce congestion, free up massive amounts of urban land now devoted to servicing and storing automobiles, and reduce the amount of roadway infrastructure needed to supply transportation needs. Also, municipalities will soon recognize that this impending consumer switch will make their inflexible and costly public transit systems obsolete.

Kitman ends with this incredibly old-fashioned and obtuse suggestion:

When it comes to the practical direction of technology, the government too often defers to industry. Shouldn't society have a say in what amounts to a public works project larger than the Interstate System of highways — run by and for private industry, but underwritten by taxpayers? Congress needs to articulate their goals and answer this burning question: Are driverless cars really what we need?

I have got a better idea: Why don't we let Americans choose for themselves in the marketplace without having to ask permission from politicians, bureaucrats and other would-be central planners?