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.
Nunes: Benefits won't be shared
So, my colleague Meredith gave a very eloquent introduction as to why the technology is unsafe, why it doesn't work. But let's assume for a second that she's wrong. I don't think she is, but let's assume. Let's say we could get the technology to be perfect. Who stands to benefit the most from driverless technology? Who is dying on America's roads?
If we look at road fatalities over the last 20 or 30 years, there has, in fact, been a drop in terms of the volume of people that are dying on the roads. But it turns out that that drop has not been uniformly shared across the socioeconomic spectrum. Sam Harper, a wonderful epidemiologist at McGill [University], has done some work on this, and what he has found is truly worrying.
If you are an American with a college degree or higher, the chances of you dying on the road has gone down over the last three decades, but if you have less than a college degree, the chances of you dying on America's roads has actually gone up.
One reason why is because less-educated people generally tend to make less money, and as a consequence of that, they are more likely to own older vehicles.
These are vehicles that lack advanced safety features, things like rear-facing cameras, blind-spot detectors, automated braking.
Put simply, if there is one group of Americans who stand to benefit from driverless car technology, it's poor people, which raises a very interesting question: Can poor people actually afford it? And we've crunched the numbers, and what we have found is that they cannot.
In fact, on a per-mile basis, the cost of riding in a driverless taxi would be at least three times higher than owning an older vehicle today. This raises a very interesting question. While driverless car technology may, in fact, have the potential to improve public health, to save lives … whose lives are we actually saving?
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