Jan 052018

I think the author here is probably right:

The War on Driving to Come

At some point in the future, be it years, decades, or a century hence, the federal government will seek to ban driving.

At first blush the idea of a ban on driving sounds nuts. But it’s really not so far-fetched. Self driving cars will inevitably -probably not soon, but someday – be much safer on the road than human-driven cars. Robots *shouldn’t* get drunk, distracted or just plain stupid. It will be easy to argue that humans shouldn’t be allowed to drive, since it’s just plain unsafe. And by that point, it will probably be a reasonably popular opinion, held by a good fraction of the voting and non-driving public. hell, right now there are major cities were sizable fractions of the populations don’t drive, don’t own cars, wouldn’t even dream of it, because there are systems in place to transport them easily and quickly to the small, restricted set of destinations that they’ve been trained to accept as  the only places worth going.

Science fiction has touched on this. The movie “I, Robot” had self-driving cars that could switch to manual… but it was considered nuts to do so.

And *reality* has already touched on this, sorta. A few years ago a California gun club and a Maryland gun shop made themselves *extremely* unpopular with the firearms-owning community by announcing that they were going to carry a new “smart gun,” the Armatix iP1. This is a pistol that can only be fired if the shooter is wearing  a specific electronic wristband. Why did this raise a ruckus? It wasn’t that people were PO’ed that a gun shop was going to carry a really expensive, very complex pistol of potentially dubious reliability in emergency situations, it was due to a quirk in New Jersey law. The “New Jersey Childproof Handgun Law” said that three years from the introduction of a “smart gun,” the *only* pistols that would be legally allowed to be sold in New Jersey would be smart guns. So by introducing the Armatix iP1 in California, New Jersey handgun buyers would soon be forced to buy from a narrow list only really expensive pistols. This would effectively bar handguns from the poor… all based on the idea that electronic guns are safer than purely manual ones. The kerfuffle seemed to eventually blow over, but the problem remains.

The same sort of thing seems likely to happen with robocars at some point. No doubt some city, county or state will pass a law that says that once robocars are proven to be safer than manual cars, after a set period *only* robocars will be sold or allowed on the road. And a *lot* of people will be ok with that. A whole lot of people *now* are perfectly fine with the idea that safety trumps liberty. People will be happy to turn over the drudgery of driving to the robots, happily giving up the freedom that comes from driving wherever the heck you like by your own will… without having Big Brother constantly aware of every detail of your movements. And happily trading convenience for the knowledge that at a moments notice your car could decide to take you not where you want to go, but where some controlling authority wants you to go.

Self driving cars are far too useful of a technology to try to stop. But it’s never too early to tr to figure out what the problems with any new technology will be and to nip them in the bud. As the article suggests, a good approach may be to pre-emptively pass laws that make it illegal to ban manual driving.

 Posted by at 7:51 pm
  • Thucydides_of_Athens

    Looking at the shoddy examples of security from the Internet of Things, large corporate and government databases and systems, I would suggest it will be a long time before anyone “trusts” autonomous vehicles in a live environment. Software errors, hacking or just unexpected events inside or outside the system could cause anything from annoyances as individual vehicles failed to work properly, to cascade failures (read chain pile ups). And of course people will probably compound this with unauthorized aftermarket software or hardware “upgrades”, or the generally neglectful way people treat cars today (anyone who owned a 60’s or 70’s era car can attest to the almost daily attention needed by those vehicles, compared to today’s vehicles, which can typically be ignored for years before opening more than the fuel filler…).

    In fact, after some highly publicized “car hacking” events, or software failures, the pendulum will swing pretty hard against autonomous vehicles outside of carefully controlled environments.

    • Paul451

      OTOH, the IoT also shows how little people seem to care about such things. Alexa and similar devices show how willing people are to give up their privacy to low security (hell, unsafe by design) automation.

      “I’m afraid of your robot car. Mine is my choice, how dare you try to tell me what I can drive.”

      • Thucydides_of_Athens

        This is one of those weird “least worst choice” situations. People will likely make horrifying compromises to safety and security if they feel there is a short term benefit, but when the first major failure happens they will change their opinion very rapidly.

        TIOT is somewhat more subtle, you may not realize your light bulbs or wireless printer have been compromised, but you will most defiantly be aware when the vehicle you are riding in is.

  • MzUnGu

    Are robo-cars required to follow the law? like driving under 65 mph?

    Don’t know how many are willing to forgo that… It’s all about I am a better driver than you, I have a better and greener car than you, and I can go faster than you out there…

    • Scottlowther

      Initially, robocars would be restricted to the same rules of the road as manual cars. But I suspect that as time goes by and they prove themselves the rules will diverge. Higher top speeds and closer following distances would make sense; having trains of vehicles drafting each other would make long distance high speed travel much more economical. This legal dichotomy should be possible, as he have it *now,* with different rules for cars and semis.

      • Paul451

        But I suspect that as time goes by and they prove themselves the rules will diverge. Higher top speeds and closer following distances would make sense;

        Logically. But logically we should be able to increase the speed limits and relax similar rules today. More and more cars have ABS and TCS/ASR, airbags, pre-tensioning seat-belts, vastly higher safety standards, etc etc. And in most places, road tolls reflect that. Yet limits are still trending down.

  • CaptainNed

    As long as we’re referencing Asimov and autonomous vehicles, here’s what happens when they meet Skynet.


    • publiusr

      I guess U-hauls we be called Asi-movers

  • Allen Ury

    Manual driving will still be legal…just not on public roads. It will be limited to private roads and tracks where olde timey “enthusiasts” will be able to drive, race — and crash — their horseless carriages with impunity.

    Car ownership will also be rare, especially in urban areas. Most people will use Uber-like services that arrive when called, take passengers to their requested destinations, and then depart to serve their next customer. This will be cheaper, more efficient, safer….and will significantly reduce the need for parking lots and parking structures. (People won’t be driving for 15 minutes and then letting their vehicles sit for hours at a time.)

    Sounds fine to me.

    The argument that this restricts personal “liberty” reminds me of the reaction earlier aviators had when the federal government stepped in to regulate general aviation in the mid-1920s. Suddenly, pilots had to be licensed, planes had to meet certain safety standards and long-range flights requiring the filing of actual flight plans. The horror!

    • Scottlowther

      > Car ownership will also be rare, especially in urban areas.

      And that will be a shame. It will promote a definite contraction of mobility; those stuck in urban monstrocities will become even more narrowed of worldview than now due to a lack of any real experience at roaming the country.

      > Most people will use Uber-like services that arrive when called, take
      passengers to their requested destinations, and then depart to serve
      their next customer.

      Which is actually a pretty horrifying thought if you happen to think that liberty is a good idea. American concepts of liberty are intertwined with American concepts of mobility… the ability to pick up and move across town or across the country, say, or the ability to just get in the car and go for a drive, destination unknown. What you’re suggesting (and I’m not saying that you’re wrong about it happening) will turn freedom of movement into freedom to ride specific rails on a schedule that is not your. If I want to, say, just go for a wander, I can be out the door and on the road to destination unknown in thirty seconds. in your future, I’ll be out the door whenever the Uber arrives. That could be many minutes away. Delays could be due to the fact that I live way out in the sticks, or it could be due to I live in a crappy neighborhood (if taxis won’t go there now, it’s fair to assume that whoever owns the robotaxis will also program them to avoid high crime areas), it could be a busy time, it could be a hacking event or sunspots or a government crackdown or who-the-hell-knows. And then… what is my requested destination? “I dunno… thataway” seems like it might not work so well for foreseeable AI.

      The idea that people will become accustomed to the idea that *all* transport is as free-wheeling as riding the bus fills me with a vague dread.

      > Suddenly, pilots had to be licensed, planes had to meet certain safety
      standards and long-range flights requiring the filing of actual flight
      plans. The horror!

      Indeed. Imagine how much fun it will be when you need to file a driving plan before your RoboUber will pick you up. Have you carried out the environmental impact statement?

    • Peter Hanely

      Self driving cars would fit well the schemes of some totalitarians to restrict where you can drive.

  • FelixA9

    Hell, there are people in Oregon who are terrified to pump gas and think it should require some kind of licensing.

    Demolition Man was another that had autodrive cars that could revert to manual.

  • Paul451

    Other creatures use roads as well as cars. So any robo-car will need to be able to handle pedestrians, cyclists, animals, children, etc. That doesn’t go away, even if you ban manually driven cars.

    And having to be able to tolerate human drivers on the road will be built in at the beginning, since the robo-car is initially outnumbered. Hence the benefits of robo-cars to the road toll will accumulate for manual drivers as well (as more and more other cars can react fast enough to tolerate your mistakes, protecting your life and property, even though you’re not driving a robo-car.) The biggest remaining risk for manual drivers is single-vehicle crashes, and even that will reduce due to augmented (not automated) driving tools.

    Aside: The most likely types of roads to be full automated first are major freeways, highways, Interstates. They are the easiest for automation. Hence long distance trips are the first to be easily automated. I’m not really seeing how people would therefore be “trapped” in a city by such automation. Dense urban environments are the hardest to automate.

    • Scottlowther

      > I’m not really seeing how people would therefore be “trapped” in a city by such automation.

      On it’s own no. But the assumption that the automation would lead more and more people to not own cars, this would seem to reduce spur of the moment road trips, along with longer driving in general since the car isn’t yours. I can plan for long trips because I know what my car can handle. If my option for travel is whatever RoboUber throws my way when *it* chooses to do so, such plans go out the window. It seems likely that in a world where people don’t own cars, then there will probably be far fewer *types* of cars. Small, horrible efficient “Smart Car” types for trips around town, a smaller number of minivan-types. Sports cars, pickup trucks, recreational vehicles of all types would seem to be things of the past. Especially if in this ownerless world the *government* ends up owning all the cars (not unreasonable… sure, initially Uber and Lyft and Tesla and the like would almost certainly own these cars, but it’s hardly unlikely that the government would come in and create a monopoly of some kind. Look to all the cities that are currently trying to crush Uber because the taxi companies feel threatened; the taxis may be private companies, but the link between them and the local government is strong and incestuous.

      New York city and the horrifying “medallion” system for taxis. Mash that system in with RoboUbers. How would that system work for outsiders? If I lost my damn mind and decided that I wanted to go to Manhattan and wander around. assuming I could even get a RoboUber here in the wilds of Utah, what happens when I get to NYC? Would I be allowed to bring the Utah RoboUber into the city? Remember, this city doesn’t allow me to bring in the sort of stuff I normally have in my car in Utah; I’d get arrested in NYC for the sort of thing that Utah cops think is actually neato.

  • Adam

    Would you be more open to the proposition if this was the car that you were required by law to ride around in? http://www.carbuzz.com/news/2017/8/31/This-New-Smart-Car-Concept-Proves-Why-Americans-Hate-Smart-Cars-7740852/

    • Scottlowther

      Can you imagine teenagers taking that thing up to Perspiration Point to make out? Yeesh.

      I suspect the motorheads would freak the fark out if they were no longer allowed to take old beaters and spruce ’em up and use them to try to pick up chicks, and instead were told that their hobby, the thing they love to do is now essentially illegal. And now they have to try to impress the ladies with an electric bubble.

      • Adam

        What about the people that live in rural communities?

        • Scottlowther

          You’d be amazed at the number of people who think that the thing to do is to force people out of small communities and jam them into arcologies. The reasoning is that it would be more efficient, as f efficiency s the goal of life; but the real reason, I think, is that people jammed into dense cities tend to turn insular and dependent upon government services. The more you can force people out of flyover country and into peoplezoos, the more you can eliminate that annoying tendency towards independent thought.

  • philo_t

    Idiot humans can’t be trusted to drive safely.
    Or maybe it’s just Mustang drivers.

    As far as myself, my uncle has a country place that no one knows about.

  • Tybarious

    This is one of those things that is (unfortunately) eventually unavoidable. I imagine it would probably happen in my lifetime. Its kinda already starting with car that can stop for you and stop you from switching lines when it detects a car in the other lane and stop you from hitting something in front of it. I don’t want something in my car second guessing my every move and I certainly don’t need another thing tracking my every movement. Its bad enough with the phones. I know those collision avoidance tech are options now, but it won’t be too long before they become standard features like airbags and seatbeats. Probably in the next 10 years or less.

  • Jon Risque

    Self driving Daytona 500?

    • Scottlowther

      I’m honestly curious to see how that works out. You *know* someone will give it a shot… whether with full-scale self-driving cars or subscale, the performance of a fully autonomous auto race could be either excitement unlimited or dull as dirt. If all the cars are mechanically the same and running off the same software, it could be a ballet of speed and safety and nothing much really happening. If software varies, then hijinks could be in the offing. Whether such a thing will be successful in the long run without the possibility of an unlucky driver getting turned into a charcoal briquet, I can’t guess.

      Without men in the cars, there’ll be no need for rescue services down on the track, or humans doing much of *anything.* So not only will there be no worry about drivers being killed, but nothing like this, either:


  • Thalesourus

    Time to start the “National Driving Association” to protect our constitutional self driving rights.