This essay was adapted from a debate April 13 in New York on the motion “All Hail the Driverless Car” as part of the nonprofit debate series Intelligence Squared U.S., in partnership with the Manhattan Institute’s Adam Smith Society. The entire debate will air soon on public radio and is available to hear now at intelligencesquaredus.org.
Bin-Nun: It's about freedom of movement
The self-driving car is an incredible innovation that is being brought forth by the confluence of fundamental breakthroughs and a broad range of scientific disciplines.
Self-driving cars are so exciting because they offer us a fresh opportunity to address some intractable problems that transportation policy and technologists have tried for decades to address. That gives us a chance to increase roadway safety, to improve accessibility of our transportation system, to reduce fossil fuel use, to decrease congestion and to achieve more equality.
We have these problems because we cannot live without the freedom of movement. Travel provides us with the economic opportunities to support our life, and meeting people fulfills our deep needs as social beings. Studies show that people who cannot move — who do not have freedom of movement — have higher rates of depression and have worse health outcomes.
Our lives are enriched by the fact that we can travel, and we can be more exposed to other cultures. That's why, since the invention of the automobile, Americans travel 50 times farther each year than they did before, and we get all sorts of opportunities because of that. Because we need to travel so much, we pay the costs. We pay with our money. We pay with our time. We pay with our very lives.
I want to talk about the disability community. Our transportation system isn't accessible. There are 2 million people with a disability who never leave their home because they cannot drive. There are 15 million people who have difficulty accessing transportation because of their inability to drive. Every mode of transportation is less accessible to people with disabilities.
This is the story of my friend Lindsay, who is legally blind and cannot drive. I've worked with her in Washington, D.C., where she moved from car-dependent Texas because transportation opportunities in Washington let her work and have a full social life.
Inspired by the potential of self-driving cars to improve mobility for people like her, Lindsay has launched a policy initiative within the Department of Labor to use self-driving cars to help people with disabilities get to work.
Lindsay is just getting started. Because of her vision and tireless work, self-driving cars will help people with disabilities work, maintain their dignity and better integrate into their communities.
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