Sure, Self-Driving Cars Will Cure Drunk Driving. But Will They Outsmart Us?

Cars are pretty smart these days.

They can take over the wheel when you parallel park. They can apply the brakes when you’re in danger of a crash. They can pump you up as soon as your tire pressure goes down. They can even nudge you back into your lane when your mind wanders and you drift.

obsolete driving schoolPut an ignition interlock into them, and they’ll even refuse to start because you’ve been drinking. How smart is that?

Not smart enough, according to Google, Tesla, Mercedes, Audi, and others. As you know, these companies are working on vehicles that drive themselves to and fro without any help from a human. Among the people who stand to benefit from this technology are tired people, busy workers, the elderly, kids, bad drivers, and of course, people who like to drink.

The vision being touted by the proponents of driverless cars is one where happy, tipsy partygoers stagger out of a bar and into their autonomous car. They press the “home” button, sing a chorus of “Dancing Queen” and then doze as the car takes them safely home.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has expressed enthusiasm for automated vehicle technology, for obvious reasons. Each year thousands of people die and many more are injured because of a decision that no driverless car would be able to make.

So will driverless cars take over the roads, and put an end to drunk driving once and for all?

The closer self-driving cars get to reality, the more questions arise.

First of all, there’s the perennial, “Who is responsible if an accident does occur? The passenger? Google?”

But legal questions aside, many entities will be disrupted by the new technology, not just drunk drivers:

  • City and state governments. If all the cars are driving perfectly, there will be no traffic tickets. What income source will replace them?
  • Driving schools. Shut ‘em down. Driving instructors, start polishing your resumes.
  • Insurance companies. As accidents decline, insurance rates will go down, and the industry will become less profitable.
  • Taxi companies and drivers. Taxis will be used less, as it will be easy to lend a car to anyone for a quick one-way trip and have the car scoot back home like an obedient German shepherd.
  • Car manufacturers. Here’s the real irony – switching to driverless technology might mean selling fewer cars. Wiith staggered work hours, a husband and wife could commute to different locations with the same car. And a stay-at-home spouse could use the same car as the commuting spouse, once it makes its way back home. No more two- and three-car families.
  • Accessory manufacturers. Is anyone going to bother putting chrome plated spinner rims on a self-driving car?

All of which is not to say that driverless cars are a bad idea. Eliminating drunk driving alone makes them a boon to society. But if self-driving cars one day become the norm, the economic and social effects will be immense. For the moment, ignition interlocks are a much less disruptive solution.