Social Consequences of Autonomous Vehicles

Lots of food for thought in Deven Desai’s Autonomous Vehicles: Unintended Upsides and Changes. In just a few paragraphs he suggests that self-driving cars could change policing, insurance, local government revenue and even parenting.

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One Response to Social Consequences of Autonomous Vehicles

  1. Zorensen Leverthal says:

    The article is a little short-sighted as there are other more obvious trade-offs that aren’t discussed.

    For example, many of the benefits identified in the article (“reduced traffic accidents, fewer drunk drivers, more mobility for the elderly and the young”) apply to mass transit equally well. The difference being, mass transit is a technology that exists now, whereas autonomous vehicles will need to be developed at great costs for little marginal utility. Compared to the carriage, an automobile adds a lot of utility; compared to an automobile, an autonomous automobile has relatively little additional to contribute.

    Additionally, there is a current cost in place for individualized transport that is not adequately addressed. For the current federal interstate system to be financially solvent — much less expanded or improved — the federal gasoline tax would need to be raised some 40¢ a gallon — now. The federal gas tax is NOT indexed to inflation, and was last raised by a nickel in 1993. Roads — and therefore driving — is heavily subsidized.

    Which is to say, when the author says “Cities, counties, and states will have to find new ways to make up that revenue stream” this is not a new problem. Roads already don’t pay for themselves, and municipalities already make up the difference with property taxes and the like. Along these lines, I would argue that hybrid electric vehicles are greater revenue stream problem, since users of those vehicles pay even less for the roads they use, which are already heavily subsidized.

    Lastly, there is the matter of energy efficiency. A city bus with just 6 passengers is getting 26 passenger miles per gallon. That’s pretty efficient, and it will be hard even for hybrids to compete with that, balanced over time.

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