The widespread implementation of autonomous cars on our roads, highways, and collective psyche is inevitable. The majority has spoken and myriad companies have already begun investing money into the concept. And although a few driverless cars will likely begin hitting the marketplace within a few years, it will—thankfully—take decades for the technology to reach ubiquity.
I only hope the inevitable happens after my life has run its natural course, because autonomous cars will be a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thing for America. Here's why:
Autonomous cars will make driving yourself illegal
The argument will be: Autonomous cars will save lives. And because no one seriously believes autonomous cars will one day rise up and kill us all in a Skynet-esque revolt, the issue of autonomous cars will be framed as a matter of public safety. It's basic fearmongering, and it's already happening, with Tesla's Elon Musk firing the first salvo: "People may outlaw driving cars because it's too dangerous. You can't have a person driving a 2-ton death machine.”
Driving yourself will ultimately turn you into a social pariah, akin to smoking a cigarette inside an elementary school full of orphans. You may scream injustice, but at the end of the day, when it's time to think of the children, which will you choose? You don't hate the children, do you? That's when the government will step in. It will be like smoking bans. Gradually, you'll be driving in less and less places until, well, you won't be allowed to do it at all.
Driving “vintage” cars will become an elitist hobby
Before they're outright banned, insuring non-autonomous cars will become cost-prohibitive. Just wait until the insurance companies run the numbers and realize autonomous cars don’t cost them anywhere near as much. The risk rate for any car with a human driver will skyrocket. That cost will naturally be absorbed by the group responsible for the highest percentage of accidents—human drivers. This is a simple market reality, and one that will cause fewer and fewer people to drive themselves.
Once the ban is firmly in place, the only place left to drive is on a race track, which means only a select few will be able to participate, since driving on a track tends to be a more expensive hobby than golf by an order of magnitude.
The Earl of March, the man we all have to thank for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, sums it up succinctly: “In the future people will want to buy real cars like they want to buy real watches: You’ll still pay a fortune for P1 McLarens because everyone still wants the mechanical deal. And for the man on the street who wants to buy a car for $5,000, he’ll just buy a self-driving thing.”
Autonomous cars will cripple small-town Americana
As much as the interstate system has been credited with killing small-town America, autonomous vehicles have the potential to do far more damage. If you’re asleep, you’ll never note the allure of the mom & pop soda fountain you’re passing. And if you’re working, why wouldn't you skip the diner with endless coffee refills and passable pancakes, in favor of something from a drive-thru? You don't wanna lose out on the precious productivity afforded by your autonomous car.
Your privacy? Forget about it.
As a matter of ensuring the systems are functioning properly, autonomous cars will need to store a fair amount of information about various routes traveled, as well as relay certain information to other vehicles and servers. It's hardly new information that the government can track your license plate nowadays, but autonomous cars will make it simpler and more accessible than ever for Big Brother to follow your every move. And I'm not even going to mention the potential for hacking your destination.
Autonomous cars will spark a self-defeating cycle
Since the dawn of the automobile, the majority of advancements have come from the world of motorsport, where men and women driven by passion compete to find the best solutions to pressing problems. That said, when kids grow up without knowing what a “driver” is, it’s only logical that they’ll take as much an interest in cars as the average American child takes in cricket or badminton today. This is a net loss for the engineering community, and one that will ultimately hurt the very cars that caused it.
They will determine your ethics for you
It’s one thing for someone to argue about whether it is wrong to, say, break the law by speeding along a deserted highway, but it's another thing entirely for him or her to take that choice out of your hands entirely. The rise of autonomous cars and the resulting homogenization of our personal transportation may seem like an advancement in technology, but really, it's just another power system enveloping us in its oppressive arms. Don't worry. Sit back. Relax. The car will handle it. The car handles everything.