Do We Really Need Cars That Drive Themselves?
Published on January 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

From Wired comes a story about efforts to develop cars that drive themselves. Such vehicles would presumably allow their owners to do stuff like read, surf the web and play cars on long trips. I like driving, so I have mixed feelings about the whole concept of a car that can drive itself.

But there are other reasons to feel conflicted about cars that drive themselves. A friend of mine rolled her eyes when I mentioned cars that drive themselves. In her mind, some of the money being used to develop cars that drive themselves would be better spent on public transportation, particularly high speed rail. And she's right! I really like taking the train. I'd do it more if it were more available, as well as affordable. (Amtrak doesn't cut it, sorry).

Blogger Amanda Marcotte has similar thoughts on the matter, writing:

"These companies are spending a lot of money on researching self-driving cars to address the desire of people to be able to commute without having to drive. But there's already a superior solution to that problem, one that addresses both the desire to not drive and it's better for the environment: public transportation. People don't need self-driving cars! They need better trains and buses, and more accessible trains and buses. Imagine if the resources being devoted to self-driving cars were instead aimed at expanding the public transportation infrastructure and making in more comfortable. For instance, Vanderbilt is right that people's desire to surf the net instead of watch the road could incline them to want to avoid driving to work, if that were an option. Well, why not put high-speed wi-fi internet on all public transportation, and then advertise the shit out of it? Instead of spending money on developing self-driving cars, what about high-speed trains? What about more subway systems? There's a serious 'reinventing the wheel' problem here."

Marcotte is right, but it doesn't matter. Driverless cars might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but the will to develop them actually exists. High speed rail, on the other hand, is just one of those weird luxuries they have in Europe. There's no glamor in bringing high speed rail to the U.S. But driverless cars! That's another story. Driverless cars, you see, are cool. And that's why we're much more likely to have driverless cars than high speed rail.

User Comments
Derek | February 20, 2012 15:02

I would love to see both. Honesltly, the idea of being able to take a train anywhere I want to go is nice. I traveled through Europe on trains and, it was great! One thing that you article does not take into account however is the idea of what this research money is doing! The idea of the driverless car has the prospect to make these companies money... A train system does the opposite for a car manufacturer. Also it has to be taken into consideration that in America it's still more about the prestige of our transportaion then the transportaion itself. For example the majority of people out there buy a vehichle that is more expensive then the one they actually need just because it has a certain look. I have went off topic here but, the point is still valid. It's not economical for a car company to invest in a train system.

Barry Sweezey | February 29, 2012 13:37

There is good reason to believe that autonomous cars would be better for the environment than mass transit. If cars can drive themselves, there's no need to own a car; just call one. Since most trips are taken by a single person, most autonomous cars would be built to hold only one person and would therefore be very small, light, and fuel-efficient. Also, most houses would no longer need garages or driveways and parking lots could be nearly eliminated.

Brad Templeton has many thoughtful articles on the subject of autonomous cars.

Craig | September 05, 2012 13:36

Mass transit, just the thought of it makes me nauseates me.
Do you people who are so enthused by mass transit realize it creates the perfect way for viral epidemics/pandemics to spread, great idea pack 300-1000 people or more into 1 transport, where the nasty microscopic bugs can spread rampedly.

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