Matthew La Corte

It may seem like futuristic technology, but driverless cars are quickly becoming the technology of today. Driverless cars, also called autonomous vehicles, navigate without the need for human control. This technology would be the most radical change to U.S. surface transportation since the Interstate Highway System was created more than half a century ago. States should recognize the legality of driverless cars to enable a future of greatly reduced automobile accidents and congestion, and increased mobility for historically disadvantaged populations.

To date, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Washington, D.C., have passed laws specifically recognizing the legality of driverless vehicles. With this technology becoming increasingly more advanced and practical for mass usage, lawmakers must take on this issue and prepare for this new mobility reality. Google’s self-driving cars have now logged over 700,000 miles on public roads, and the company recently announced a new prototype of fully autonomous shuttles they hope to begin testing in California this year.

Over 30,000 Americans die each year from automobile accidents and thousands more are injured. Of these accidents, 90 percent are mainly caused by human error. Driverless cars feature advanced computer systems that react faster and smarter to change in traffic and other vehicles. Google cars use radar, laser, and camera sensors to detect pedestrians, foreign objects, and infrastructure all in real time. This huge advantage will drastically cut down on accidents that would occur with human operation. Fewer accidents will save lives and lower medical costs. Simply put, if states restrict the adoption of driverless cars, they are, in effect, mandating more injuries and deaths on the road.

Another advantage of driverless cars is decreasing congestion. Driverless cars will be able to safely operate at closer distances to each other, potentially tripling highway capacity. This will drastically cut down congestion on America’s aging road network. It has been estimated the U.S. economy loses over $100 billion per year due to wasted time and fuel caused by traffic congestion. Also, less congestion means less local air pollution from gridlocked vehicles. Integrating driverless cars into the American automobile fleet would result in autos going green on their own, without clumsy and burdensome government regulations. Similarly, vehicles could be manufactured lighter as collision risk features add a great deal of bulk to vehicles. A lighter vehicle fleet will use less fuel and result in less pollution.

Matthew La Corte

Matthew La Corte is an immigration research analyst at the Niskanen Center, a non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C.