By Joshua D. Glawson | United States
“Autonomous” vehicles, also known as “self-driving,” “driverless,” and “robotic” vehicles, are the future of every means of vehicular transportation. Self-driving cars for your daily commute, robotic trucks carrying shipments cross-country, driverless taxi services, autopilot commercial jets, and beyond, will be the normative in the not-so-distant future. The biggest hurdle between the current human driven vehicles and the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow is an overbearing government and general people of society scared of progress. Ronald Bailey, the author of Reason Magazine’s article “Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future,” demonstrates that within the United States of America (US) fear, politicians, and bureaucratic agencies slow down progress of technology while the free market would push us into a world of great technological advancements. I happen to agree with Ronald Bailey’s assessment, and I share his passion for a self-driving vehicle future of less accidents, economic salvation, trafficless roads, and a leap into an automated world of tomorrow.
In March 2016, Senator Ben Nelson of Florida addressed the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation with his then recent experience of testing a self-driving Tesla. He was not trusting enough to allow the car to take a turn on its own, so he took over the steering wheel. Nelson pontificated, “In the federal government we have a critical role to make sure that the regulatory environment and legal environment in which American business does business is able to develop and manufacture these vehicles. And also it means that we’re going to have to- in our case- exercise responsible oversight,” ensuring that the government would also be metaphorically grabbing the wheel of the future of autonomous vehicles (Bailey. Page 20). Many politicians like Nelson ignore that Article 1 — Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution does not entitle congress to regulate the market in such a way (Constitution).
Similarly, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento is already planning to regulate and limit driverless vehicles in that they have drafted various regulations stipulating that even autonomous vehicles must have steering wheels, pedals, and a specially trained driver in the driver’s seat (Bailey. Page 20). This is normal practice for a big brother government made up of politicians that want to appear as though they are doing something important, when, in fact, they are slowing down human progress. The cellular phone, for instance, was restricted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by declining cellular licenses from 1970 all the way until 1983 (Bailey. Page 25). This means that cellphones could have been sold in the free market nearly a decade prior if it were not for a meddling government and, in turn, this demonstrates that progress is fearfully decelerated by constant legislatorial interfering.
Leading minds amongst the growing field of autonomous vehicle pioneers such as Brad Templeton, of Electronic Frontier Foundation, UCLA’s (University of California, Los Angeles) urban planner Donald Shoup, Columbia University’s mobility specialist Lawrence Burns, and Chris Urmson, Google’s self-driving car chief, all agree that government regulations need to cease in regards to robotic vehicles. Chris Urmson is quoted on a public blog in response to California’s mandate proposals as saying, “Instead of putting a ceiling on the potential of self-driving cars, let’s have the courage to imagine what California would be like if wasted hours, and restricted mobility for those who want the independence that the automobile has always represented,” (Bailey. Page 20).
According to the global financial services firm Morgan Stanley in an analysis given in 2013, driverless vehicles would save the US as much as $488 billion in accident avoidance, $507 billion in productivity gains, $158 billion in fuel savings, $138 billion in productivity gains from congestion avoidance, $11 billion in fuel savings from congestion avoidance, and $168 billion in long haul freight trucking annually (Bailey. Pages 23–24). Additionally, driverless cars would allow the elderly, disabled, and the intoxicated to safely move about. California state officials would be seriously hurting not only their state technological advancements, but also the economic stability that the autonomous car would bring them.
The author of “Will Politicians Block our Driverless Future,” Ronald Bailey goes through every objection Senator Ben Nelson and many people in public share (Nelson). He addresses the fear, politicians, government controls, economy, and even hacking. Understandably, there are still a lot of what-ifs, but that is no different than the what-ifs that currently plague and stagnate our society with the technology that we already have. Such burlesquing inquiries only expose the insecurities in people rather than the possibilities of progress. According to Berkley’s transportation security researcher, Steven Shladover, in response to hacking on the highways, “Vulnerabilities in autonomous vehicles are not a whole lot different from the sort of cyber-attacks that can be unleashed on modern vehicles that are not automated today,” (Bailey. Page 24). Ergo, hacking and other technological problems could be an issue today, but as they are not it, too, should not be a limiting factor for autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.
I am in accord with Ronald Bailey’s assessment of government getting in the way of technological advancement, especially with this scenario of the autonomous vehicle. Fear of the unknown cannot be a reason to allow control and limitations of human progress. If fear were a reason to demand control over ourselves by others, we would still be in caves and hiding in forests among only our closest of kin. We would have never had a car, never had an airplane, never had a cellphone, or just about anything else around you now.
As shown when the FCC did not allow companies to sell cellular phones from the 1970s until 1983, bureaucracy is currently on the same track of mindless repetition in prevention and unnecessary red tape in regards to the driverless vehicle. While also comparing the autonomous vehicle to commercial airliners it is momentous to point out that airplanes are vastly automated already. Thus, fear should not be a part of the minds of people or bureaucrats demanding regulations. In the New York Times article “Planes Without Pilots” by John Markoff, pilots of Boeing 777s are noted to spend around seven minutes, or less, actually controlling the plane each flight, and pilots flying Airbus planes spend nearly half that time (Markoff. ¶7). In a Vanity Fair piece entitled “The Human Factor,” author William Langewiesche details the tragic 2009 Boeing 727 plane crash of Air France Flight 447. Throughout his article, captioning the actual cockpit conversations and situations as gathered from the plane’s recovered black-box, it was human error that eventually led to the fateful end for the 228 lives aboard and not the automation (Langewiesche).
As of 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) declared 32,675 people died in vehicle accidents within the US (NHTSA 1. Page 2) and around 94% of those were due to human error rather than mechanical or electronic errors (NHTSA 2. Page 1). With automated vehicles operating at full capacity without limitations, the number of accidents and resulting deaths would tremendously plummet towards zero. Brad Templeton of Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, “Developers don’t need to prove the safety of the vehicles to the government, but first to their board of directors and customers,” (Bailey. Page 24). Viz., with less regulations, preferably little-to-none, customers could be more easily acquired and that capital would help finance further research for autonomous vehicles and their respective safety, simultaneously launching the nation and world into a future of driverless vehicles.
Restipulating the facts, the technology for self-driving vehicles is already here. We just need less government regulations limiting the market of free and voluntary exchange in order to produce the necessary capital to fund the release and testing of autonomous vehicles and their technology. There is not a need for a coercive monopoly, i.e. government, to be the tester and bureaucratic red tape between companies manufacturing autonomous technology that helps everyone and the people that benefit from it or those that just simply want it. Fear cannot be a factor that limits us as a progressive specie. Autonomous vehicles are safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective than human drivers. This autopia is possible only if legislators and the fearful would get out of the road to successful technological progress with autonomous vehicles.
Bailey, Ronald. “Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?” Reason July 2016: 18–25. Print.
Markoff, John. “Planes Without Pilots.” New York Times 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 August 2016.
Nelson, Senator Bill. Sen. Bill Nelson on ride in self-driving car: “I’m glad I grabbed the wheel.” MRCTV,
15 Mar. 2016. Web. 1 August 2016. http://www.mrctv.org/videos/sen-bill-nelson-ride-self-driving-car-im-glad-i-grabbed-wheel
NHTSA 1. 2014 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Mar. 2016. Web. 1 August 2016.
NHTSA 2. Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.
Feb. 2015. Web. 1 August 2016. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812115.pdf
U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 8.