Our Transportation Infrastructure is Crumbling

A Path for Driverless Cars

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Nov 3, 2012    •    1170 Views

A self-driving car could be a pleasure…

The day would begin with a pick-up that you scheduled through your phone app. When your self-driving car arrived at your front door, you would get in, check today’s drive time and start to prepare for your first meeting. On the highway, the vehicle could “chain” to a sister model. At the office, it would drop you off and then return home to take your children to school. Or, it might just travel to the city’s periphery to rest for the day in a driverless car parking lot.

Much more than a gadget, “autonomous vehicles,” could make a huge difference.

  • Additional productivity in the car.
  • Extra relaxation time.
  • More safety. (After 50,000 of test miles that had no human intervention, driverless cars had no accidents.)
  • Less traffic because of “chaining” vehicles.
  • Fewer parking lots occupying valuable real estate in major cities.
  • More mobility for non-drivers.
  • Diminished carbon emissions from more efficient vehicle use.

This video of a Google car on city streets is great, especially when it stops as a garbage truck cuts in front of it and when a group of children cross the street.


New technology means winners and losers. During the beginning of the 20th century as auto ownership multiplied, buggy whips became obsolete and the US horse and mule population plunged from 26 million in 1915 to 3 million in 1960. Meanwhile, suburbia and McDonald’s became possible and gas stations became a necessity.

I know that the introduction of self-driving cars involves countless complexities. But maybe, like the first autos, they could become a transformative technology. If so, we would again have Joseph Schumpeter’s (1883-1950) creative destruction through which existing industries become obsolete because of innovation.

A final fact: Asked who pays the summons when the car goes through a red light, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said, “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.”

Sources and Resources: For details on driverless cars, I recommend this paper from KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and a briefer but excellent discussion from the Economist. For a reality check, though, here are articles from CNN on tests in Nevada and California whose legislatures have said that Google and other developers could test their driverless vehicles on their roads as long as a person sits behind the wheel. Also, thanks to economist Timothy Taylor’s The Conversable Economist for an introduction to self-driving vehicles.

My source for this chart on the complexities of making driverless cars a reality was the CAR paper.

From CAR/KPMG, "Self-Driving Cars: The Next Revolution"

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