Are Utopian Visions of Driverless Cars Realistic?

"Autonomous" and "driverless" cars are surely the next frontier for automakers, as recent announcements by Audi, Toyota, and Google indicate. But are visions for the potential impact of these innovations on cities overly optimistic?

Jake Blumgart considers an article by Derek Edwards at Progressive Transit that outlines the "utopian potential" of driverless cars to transform cities. By redefining our relationship with automobiles, Edwards imagines that driverless cars could eliminate the need for owning a personal car; freeing up space dedicated to parking and eliminating the expenses of car ownership. 

While Blumgart agrees that "[r]educing dependence on single-occupancy vehicles would be an unalloyed good for cities," he sees more incremental improvements in the lives of those already predisposed to suburban and urban living. "[I]t’s hard to imagine a majority of Americans willingly parting with not only control over their cars, but the actual physical ownership of the vehicle itself," he says. Rather than a wholesale revolution in our relationship to the automobile, Blumgart argues that "driverless cars could give suburbanites an easier commute, and substantially decrease the riskiness of their weekend barroom excursions, mitigating the micro-level negatives of car travel....Furthermore, it’s unlikely that an individual with a preference for urban living, and not paying for constant auto upkeep, decamping for the suburbs simply because she could take a nap on her hour-long commute to work."

"Those already predisposed to live in a central city and use car share would presumably love an enhanced on-call version of the same service," he concludes, "while those who want to live in the country will embrace safer and less arduous commutes."

Full Story: Whither the Driverless Car?

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