Driverless cars: once they're on the road, human drivers should be banned

Driverless cars: once they're on the road, human drivers should be banned
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Self-driving cars could revolutionise people's lives. By the end of the next decade, or perhaps even sooner, they could radically transform public spaces and liberate us from the many problems of mass car ownership. They'll also be much better behaved than human drivers.

Robot drivers won't break the speed limit, jump the lights, or park where they shouldn't. They won't drive under the influence of drink or drugs. They'll never get tired or behave aggressively. They won't be distracted by changing the music or sending a text, and they'll never be trying to impress their mates.

Driverless cars could also change the face of . Private cars are very expensive items that do absolutely nothing 95% of the time. They are economically viable only because paying a taxi driver for all your car journeys would be even more expensive. Once cars don't need human drivers, this cost balance should tip the other way.

Imagine what your town or city could look like with driverless taxis instead of private cars. Most of the space taken up by car parks could be used for homes, offices, cafes, bars, cinemas, hotels, and swimming pools. An end to parked cars lining every street like urban cholesterol. Quicker bus journeys. Wider pavements.

With more space and safer roads, active transport would be more attractive. More people would travel around on bikes, skateboards, roller blades, and scooters. Driverless taxis could easily be electric, returning to depots to recharge.

The benefits to would be enormous. Our towns and cities would be vastly more pleasant places to live and breathe. Transport's contribution to would be dramatically reduced. But ensuring all these benefits presents an important ethical challenge.

Dealing with emergencies

Ethical concern about autonomous vehicles has so far focused on emergencies. Should a car save its passengers at the cost of killing or injuring other people? Should it swerve to avoid someone in the road if this means hitting someone on the pavement? How many people need to be saved to outweigh a bystander's life or limb? Are children more important than adults? And so on.

The problem resembles philosopher Philippa Foot's most famous ethical thought experiment: the trolley problem. Imagine you are driving a trolleybus. Its brakes have failed and it's hurtling towards five people who will certainly be killed if it hits them. You can swerve it onto a side track, killing one person who otherwise would not have been affected. The question is, whether you should.

Driverless cars: once they're on the road, human drivers should be banned
Would you hit the switch? Credit: McGeddon/Wikimedia Commons., CC BY-SA

Philosophers debating this question have produced a dazzling array of variations. What if you are standing by the track next to someone wearing a very large backpack? Should you push that tourist under the trolley, saving five people's lives? If you could stop the trolley only at the cost of your own life, should you do that? And so on and so on.

Intuitive responses to these variations tend to seem contradictory. But we learn more about our moral thinking by exploring how they might in fact be consistent. And we learn more about moral cognition by scanning people's brains while they consider these problems.

Self-driving cars have given this debate a new purpose. We have to teach these vehicles how to handle emergencies—the trolley problem just got real. At least, this is what many philosophers think. But in focusing on an existing thought experiment, they have missed the bigger picture.

The real ethical challenge

Engineers working on driverless cars tell us that the safest response in any emergency is to stop. This will be even safer if the nearby cars all have robot drivers. And robot drivers would be better behaved than human ones, reducing the number of emergencies on the roads.

Given all the potential benefits to public health and quality of life, we should be much better off once robots take over the driving, whatever the authorities decide about emergency situations.

This is what gives rise to the real ethical challenge of self-driving cars. Once robot drivers are safe enough to allow onto the roads in large numbers, it seems that we should maximise their benefits by banning their dangerous human counterparts from public roads.

There would be resistance to this, of course. Many people enjoy driving. But many people enjoy smoking, too, and this is banned in public places for the protection of non-smokers. There could be designated safe spaces for to indulge their hobby without risk to other people.

Rights of access pose a more difficult question. There is a strong case that essential transport infrastructure should be publicly owned. And if private cars are not an option, perhaps the cost of using autonomous taxis should be proportionate to ability to pay.

But regardless of how we resolve these practical issues, it seems that the enormous benefits of safe, driverless taxis should lead us to remove any other kind of car from our roads.


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User comments

Jun 06, 2019
Sorry, this is progress whether you like it or not. History has showed us it won't be stopped by you or anyone else.

Jun 06, 2019
Sorry, this is an implausible idea. Human behavior has shown us that systems open to blatant sabotage and abuse don't work.

Jun 06, 2019
Taxis are a niche market

People nip out on the spur of the moment
Firstly there is not enough driverless taxis to go round
For country dwellers are you going to wait hours for your taxi
Or hop into your car as you do now
Country dwellers will still have their car
Taxis do not work large scale which is why is not every one using them
Because we want to nip out at a moment's notice without waiting for a taxi
That is why we have cars
And the following commentators will come up with enumerable more reasons
Why taxis will not get accepted
Taxis are a niche market that you have to plan ahead
You cannot move those mattresses for your neighbour so conveniently without a car
Or do the shopping at Tesco's
Now how many taxis every hour 24-7 would you need to keep the customers coming and going
And that is just Tesco's

Jun 06, 2019
It will be interesting to see how driverless cars handle pedestrians in big crowed cities. Once pedestrians realize that they can cross a street at will and the driverless cars will not challenge them the cars will not be able to navigate past the pedestrians at crowded intersections. That could slow down city traffic quite a bit during rush hour.

Jun 06, 2019
As if like Magic the Traffic Stops

The phrase you're looking for MR166
It will be interesting to see how driverless cars handle pedestrians in big crowed cities. Once pedestrians realize that they can cross a street at will and the driverless cars will not challenge them the cars will not be able to navigate past the pedestrians at crowded intersections. That could slow down city traffic quite a bit during rush hour.

Is Grid Lock, MR166
You will not be done for jaywalking
Because there will be no defined crossings
You simply cross the road where you want to cross
As if like magic, the traffic stops
Like the parting of the red sea

Jun 06, 2019
all hail the BRAVE NEW WORLD

these creeps have some f*king nerve

Jun 06, 2019
Will the taxi barns allow their driverless brethen out in weather most foul? What of emergencies? What of sheer distance across certain areas, or mountains to climb and cross? And who pays for all of this? Hahaha, of course we all know the answer to that last question, don't we? Its just another attempt by those who know better than us how to live our lives to strip away yet more personal freedom from the little people. Be docile now, and go quietly into that good night. They're so much smarter than you, after all.

Jun 06, 2019
Cloud Cuckoo World Comes to mind

Jonathan Webber
Imagine what your town or city could look like with driverless taxis instead of private cars
Most of the space taken up by car parks could be used for homes
Offices, cafes, bars
Cinemas
Hotels
Swimming pools
An end to parked cars lining every street like urban cholesterol
Quicker bus journeys
Wider pavements

If Jonathan Webber
Gets out his car
Faces reality
Goes down to the taxi rank
Leans against the lamp post
Lights his pipe
Watch's the customers climb in the the individual taxis
Whence they are then whisked away to their destinations
After Jonathan Webber has wiled away an hour
How many taxis in the rank
How many customers were whisked away
While all this activity is taking place
Will Jonathan Webber avert his eyes
To the busy roads these handful of taxis are whisking these handful of customers
Jonathan Webber
How are all these drivers going to fit in to these handful of taxis?

Jun 07, 2019
"Imagine what your town or city could look like with driverless taxis instead of private cars. Most of the space taken up by car parks could be used for homes, offices, cafes, bars, cinemas, hotels, and swimming pools. "

That seriously sounds like a nightmare. Why do these crazy authors always assume we need more growth? Or more of anything? Why not less? Why not parks, trees, trails, natural spaces instead of more glass, asphalt, steel and human-only spaces? I SERIOUSLY hate cities (all cities, large and small) and find them highly offensive, toxic, disgusting, wasteful and prison-like. I avoid them at all costs. Malls? Don't need or like them. Bars? Never go there. You get the idea. Humans need to use LESS of everything, not more.

Jun 07, 2019
Horseshit. If automated cars can't avoid collisions with human-piloted cars on the open roadways they should be banned, not the humans.

Suck it up. Deal with reality. Get over it.

Jun 07, 2019
The Automated What If Conundrum

Jonathan Webber the philosopher
The what if conundrum
Philosophers debating this question
Have produced a dazzling array of variations
What if you are standing by the track
Next to someone wearing a very large backpack
Should you push that tourist under the trolley
Saving five people's lives
If you could stop the trolley
Only at the cost of your own life
Should you do that
And so on and so on

Very interesting, Jonathan Webber
If you could stop the trolley
Only at the cost of your own life
Would you, Jonathan Webber?
Because
Jonathan Webber
This is one of your what ifs
Your very own what ifs, and no one else's
Because
As you postulated your what ifs
You have to accept the what ifs of your postulated what ifs
You have to accept the consequential what ifs

Or is this what your gripe is really all about
Da Schneib
If automated cars
Can't avoid collisions
With human-piloted cars
On the open roadways
They should be banned
Not the humans

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