I know this is weird to talk about for car enthusiasts, but the U.S. Department of Transportation says it wants to move the nation toward a Zero Death Future, where traffic fatalities become relegated to history. In theory, this sounds nice; in practice, it’s probably impossible—unless there’s a ban on driving. So how could the pleasure of driving be upheld in such a world?
A driving ban makes for a bonkers idea, but it’s gained momentum inside and outside the auto industry in recent years.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who basically goaded the auto industry to follow along the automaker’s path and develop advanced automated driving systems of their own, said as much back in 2015. At the time, Musk said that, eventually, cars are going to be advanced to a point that driving has to be outlawed.
“It’s too dangerous,” he said. “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”
Even so, Musk thinks it would take at least 20 years to move the auto maker to full-autonomy. “I think it is important to appreciate the size of the automotive industrial base,” he said.
Vox conducted a poll last year and found a significant portion of millennials are actually into the idea of a law banning humans from getting behind the wheel, as well, so long as driverless cars are proven to be safer.
30 percent of the population said they would support such a law, while 54 percent of the population opposed it. A slight plurality of those under 30 said they would favor a ban, 43 percent to 42 percent. In contrast, those over 65 were opposed by a wide margin, 58 percent to 22 percent.
Again, I don’t think this’ll happen, at least not for another century. Until then, the Jalops will reign supreme.
But it’s a very pointed topic that has been articulated by the likes of Musk, so it’s at least worth considering: What would it be like if humans were banned from driving? Could you still find solace and joy of an empty road on a nice summer day? Here’s a few quick ideas.
Live on the wild side. I’m not advocating you should break every law, but we’re talking about a ban on driving. Unless the ban requires the government to seize every car with a steering wheel and pedals, just go for a spin. You love driving, yeah? Drive, then.
Maybe, after sitting in a fully-autonomous concept for the first time, you become enamored by the idea and buy-in from the get-go. Take that happy toaster-looking thing above, Volkswagen’s Sedric concept.
It looks pretty comfortable!
Driving in a fully-autonomous car is supposed to be an advent of comfort never seen before in a vehicle. In theory, it’s supposed to be the kind of environment where you can read a book, get drunk, take a nap, or sit and stare blankly out the window as the world passes you by.
Maybe it’s not your thing now. But the majority of people spend their time in a car during daily commutes to work, stuck in traffic jams and the like. The idea of being whisked around in a fully-automated driving machine could be nice. Perhaps, then, you’ll realize it’s actually better than driving altogether.
But come on, that’s nuts. One thing I commonly hear when talking to people about autonomous cars is that people just like to drive. And that’s right! Living in Michigan, it was a superb feeling to escape Metro Detroit by heading north on I-75 and hitting open roadways in and around the northern part of the state.
If a ban happens, I could see some municipalities taking advantage of the void and zoning swaths of land for Driving Only. It could allow for only a limited number of people to drive at certain times, so you wouldn’t have to deal with clogged up roadways.
Even in a fully-automated world, this doesn’t seem out of the question. Ford, for instance, already patented a removable steering wheel and pedals for autonomous cars.
The option presents the best of both worlds for enthusiasts: for work commutes, they could avoid having to keep their eyes on the road and sit back and relax; in their free time, they could snap the wheel back on and take off.
There’s cars already buzzing around the world for Google Maps and autonomous car developers. Maybe those images could be used to replicate an incredibly-realistic experience of driving.
If VR sets become available in the coming years, that could be a more-affordable option for those of us who love the act of driving but don’t want to put up with repair costs anymore.
Taking automakers at their word, that it’ll take at least four more decades before the driverless car revolution takes hold, I’ll be approaching my 70s. To be honest, most drivers are terrible at handling the road, so I could see myself enjoying a trip on a VR headset than dealing with annoying, god-awful motorists.
Again, I don’t think a ban on human driving is happening for the foreseeable future. But it’s fascinating to consider the possibilities of what could be done in the event the technology is adopted en masse.
There’s a lot of ifs behind that scenario, though, as my colleague Raphael Orlove astutely laid out this week. But if autonomous technology continues to develop and show progress, there’s no doubt a ban’s going to be considered, even if it is 50 or 100 years from now. Is it right and just to keep human-driven cars on the road if, one day, it’s proven that autonomous cars work safely and reduce fatalities as drastically as the DOT wants? With companies like Google’s Waymo having already deployed driverless cars on the road, it makes grappling with this sort of question—as wild as it is—all the more necessary. So why not consider it now?