Driverless Cars Won’t Save Us

In fact, they’ll do the opposite of what techno-optimists hope, and worsen—not ease—inequality.

For a growing chorus of techno-optimists and even urbanists, driverless cars are the solution to everything from traffic congestion to high housing prices. By providing an easy, flexible, hands-free commute, during which people can watch videos, talk, or get work done, they will stretch the current boundaries of our crowded metro areas, and enable more and more people, especially the affluent and the advantaged, to live in far-off suburbs and exurbs.

To this way of thinking, driverless cars are the most recent in a long line of technologies—from the horse-drawn carriage and the streetcar to subways, trains, and the automobile itself—that have allowed us to escape the clutches of geography and the constraints of distance.

But the reality of driverless cars is likely to be rather different.

The vision of millions of workers logging hours from their comfortable offices on wheels can be intoxicating. And, yes, it is true that the desire to avoid long commutes is one of the things that has sent affluent Americans streaming back to cities over the past decade and a half. But a driverless car is still a car. A growing number of metro regions, including the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and Toronto, have now reached the physical point where the car is no longer an effective technology for moving people long distances. This is a limit that the new technology will not overcome.

The basic law of traffic congestion is that as more new roads get built, they quickly fill up with more cars, and congestion remains. Although you won’t be driving them yourself, driverless cars won’t be able to overcome the reality of congested roads, occasional accidents, and unpredictable commutes. Higher-income people who want to avoid such commutes will continue to use their money to avoid them by living closer to the urban center.

Veröffentlichung:
29. November 2017

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