When will driving be made illegal?

By the time my children are old enough to learn to drive, they won’t need to bother.

By the time my grandchildren are old enough to learn to drive, it will be illegal.

There are already self-driving cars on public roads. Right now, the technology is in its early stages, but like most areas loosely gathered under “artificial intelligence”, the speed of progress is fast and accelerating. Most of the real hurdles in the path of ubiquitous self-driving cars are legislative, not technical. It is a given that self-driving cars are inevitable.

Before they gain wide acceptance, they’ll need to be really, really safe. They’ll never be perfect – for years, headlines about people killed in and by SDCs will proliferate. But they’ll be headlines because they’re rare and unusual. The fact is driverless cars will be of necessity much, much safer than human-operated ones. They’ll never try to drive and text, they’ll never be drunk or tired or distracted by a screaming child. They’ll never speed or take a corner too fast in the wet.

Sooner or later, the public will be presented with annual figures something like this:

  • Number of human-driven cars on the road: 20 million
  • Number of self-driving cars on the road: 20 million
  • Number of deaths and serious injuries caused by human operated cars: 5000
  • Number of deaths and serious injuries caused by self-driving cars: 50.

What that initially suggests is that if there were only self-driving cars, 4950 people would still be alive. But it’s worse than that. Chances are, quite a few of the 50 people killed or injured in or by SDCs were hurt in collisions with or caused by human-driven cars. Take the humans out of the loop entirely, and the SDCs get even safer.

When that happens – and it’s inevitable – driving a car under your own control on a public road will come to be seen as a deeply selfish and irresponsible act, like smoking in a maternity unit or flying a plane drunk. Sooner or later, it’s bound to become illegal.

You’ll still be able to drive a car, of course… but you’ll need to take it to a track, where you can risk your own neck under controlled conditions. Driving will cease to be something we all have to do, and become just another hobby, like riding a horse.

Eventually, people will look back at this time in horror, wondering why we permitted the annual holocaust on our roads to continue for so long.

Sooner the better, I say.

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