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Why Elon Musk is Wrong About the Future of Driverless Cars

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BMW-Tesla Collaboration Elon Musk Conference interview

Automotive wunderkind and minor Simpsons character Elon Musk (right) speaking at a conference

Tesla CEO Elon Musk enjoys saying things; even when those things are, in all likelihood, partially or entirely BS. Recently, he made the news for saying things about autonomous cars—chiefly, that in the future, all new cars will eventually be manufactured with self-driving capabilities (probably true), and that because of this technological breakthrough, cars you can drive will be illegalized (probably BS).

“It’s too dangerous,” Musk said at a recent tech conference. “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”

Of course, Musk realizes that the criminalization of normal cars won’t happen overnight. That’s why he estimated that making all vehicles on the road completely autonomous would probably take 20 years.

If that’s true, you’ve only got two more decades of driving your Honda Accord of your own accord—so treasure those moments. But before you start to fret, consider the probability that Elon Musk is wrong about the future of driverless cars.

Google Driverless Car

Oh God, tell us this won’t be the only street-legal car in the future

Musk is right that car accidents kill many innocent Americans every year, so it’s reasonable to assume that if a technology existed to eliminate those fatalities, then the government would mandate the use of that technology. But that assumption would be wrong.

Case in point: Guns kill more people than cars in America, and whenever anyone suggests outlawing (or even just putting slightly tighter restrictions on) those things, people freak out.

Granted, there’s no “right to bear steering wheels” enshrined in the constitution—but there doesn’t need to be. There are way more car owners and auto enthusiasts than there are gun lovers in this country, and while they may not have a powerful lobby that’s bribing influencing legislators, they don’t require one. No one is coming to pry your Pontiac Aztec from your cold, dead hands (though someone really should).

CDC Data Shows Guns Kill More People than Cars in America

Both of the things Arnold’s doing here are going to be legal for a while

Here’s something that might make more sense (but still seems a little far-fetched, and is almost definitely more than 20 years away): Eventually, all cars will be equipped with autonomous capabilities. To reduce highway deaths, accidents, and traffic jams, entering a major highway or interstate will require drivers to cede jurisdiction of their vehicle and allow it to be controlled by a system that monitors every car, truck and SUV on the highway, and manipulates all of them to travel at the speed that is safest and most efficient for the flow of traffic.

But once you exit off of the interstate, you will be able to take back control (and responsibility), if you so choose. That means lazy Sunday drivers can still putter around town aimlessly, performance enthusiasts can still go hooning in an empty parking lot, and off-roaders can still take their Jeeps off the grid and into the wild. There will still be a steering wheel in every new vehicle that is produced to allow for those freedoms.

Enforcing some autonomous-only zones (primarily on busy, high-speed highways) would make more sense than outlawing driving altogether, and would likely be more accepted by the general public.

One thing is for certain: autonomous vehicles are on their way, and they’re going to kick ass. Once you own a self-driving car, you’ll be able to give your lazy ass an extra thirty minutes of sleep during your commute to work; you’ll be able to drink yourself sick at Happy Hour without having to call a cab; and you’ll be able to literally spend every waking second of your life texting, tweeting, and/or playing Candy Crush—in short, you’ll be able to overindulge in everything, all of the time, like a true American.

But you’ll also retain the freedom to wrest control back from the machine and “do things the old fashioned way,” no matter how dangerous or inadvisable doing things the old fashioned way may be, just because you want to, damn it—because that’s also part of being a true American.