Driverless Cars – Moral and Environmental Impacts

The Family:

Over decades, the auto inserted itself into the dynamic of a typical American family.  Aside from a child’s first day of kindergarten and first day of high school, his or her 16th birthday – licensing age for drivers – in many cases has been the most important day of growing up.

A child’s learning to drive frequently marked a strengthening of his bond with parents, those who could induct him into the adult world of the driver.  A parent’s teaching of a child to drive marked a maturing of that parent as she practiced “letting go” her daughter into an adult world.  A teenager knew they weren’t grown up until they passed a driving test under the strict eye of a state examiner.  The advent of driverless cars will remove these traditions. 

What will be left in their place?  It is already said that US kids mature far earlier than did their parents, and likely an easier transition to the world of autos will give a sense of maturity to younger and younger teens.  Laws might have to change on licensing both “drivers” and cars.  Why would a “driver’s license” remain necessary? If one doesn’t need a driver’s license to drive a car, will anyone be “too young” to take a car trip unaccompanied?  Could your 11 year old take the car to the grocery store to purchase some milk, or could you send the car to school to drop off your children?  These questions bring up important considerations of morals, relationships, and parenting techniques.

At the other end of the spectrum, the effects of aging can keep a person from passing a driver’s test.  With driverless cars, it’s conceivable that the very aged could use private transportation unassisted.  Whether you’re young or old, driverless cars could increase our independence.  It could also have some really significant consequences if not treated properly. On top of all of this, there are also impacts on your family budget with driverless cars.

The Planet:

Proponents of driverless cars say a driverless population will burn less gasoline, thereby reducing our carbon output.  Why? It is said that humans tend to accelerate and brake inefficiently.  Too often, zooming away from a stop sign is followed by hurried braking at the next intersection.  Calm, steady, efficient acceleration by a driverless car would burn less fuel.  And a car using measured acceleration could travel, safely, and closer to a lead vehicle’s bumper than is now allowable.  This practice allows “drafting” – using a lead vehicle to break air resistance and thus to conserve fuel, as racers often do.  Moreover, driverless cars communicating with each other could bring about less traffic, again increasing fuel efficiency.

Director of the Nissan Research Center in California, Maarten Sierhuis, wrote,

“Scientists use simulation and a lot of assumptions in their models in order to predict what the (fuel) savings would be.  The question remains if the assumptions are correct. First we have to develop the technology, and once we can prove that it works, then we will study how to use this technology to accomplish efficiency.”

Our Society:

For decades, on environmental grounds, calls have come for a weaning of society away from use of private vehicles.  We now see businesses like Uber and Lyft that are transforming the way we think about transportation.  The combination of driverless cars and innovative thinking could even shift how we use this essential form of transportation.

There are many that believe the future of cars may no longer revolve around the concept of private ownership – where each driver or family owns a car.  They suggest that borrow-a-car groups in several major cities – Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago – could become the norm.  In this scenario you would access and share a pool of cars readily available to take you where you need to go.  It would somewhat be like a real estate timeshare but for cars.

General Motors, which likely will enter the competition to sell driverless vehicles, already sponsors a car-sharing program in New York City.  Residents of a 479-home luxury apartment building in Manhattan can reserve SUVs and park them in any of 200 member garages.

Shifting away from private ownership is pretty dramatic.  Especially for a county that values personal independence greatly.  It’s possible, but is it really likely?  We’ll see.

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