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Driverless highways are not worth their benefits

Routes for autonomous vehicles might be safer, but they drive another wedge between economic classes

Bill Gates is one of many high-profile technology professionals who is starting to plan for the coming of driverless cars. One plan is to have separate highways for self-driving vehicles — a divisive topic, to say the least.

The idea for a driverless highway from Vancouver to Seattle would have an HOV lane permit both driverless and non-driverless vehicles for a while, and then phase the non-driverless cars out before banning them. They say this carpet ban would only be during peak hours, but I see it as only a matter of time before they’re banned completely.

The world is changing and driverless cars are becoming more of a legitimate possibility, with more than just Google working on the idea. I’m not against having separate roadways for these cars — I actually think that’s the better idea — but my support for separate roadways has its caveats.

It makes a lot of sense for driverless cars to have their own roads. On these roads, all the variables would be accounted for, save natural disasters. This would result, ultimately, in the safest possible commute — as long as all the cars could properly sense each other, which is one of the goals of the driverless vehicles.

When you add in a couple of mavericks driving unpredictably, that’s when trouble would start and the roads would become less safe, something driverless cars don’t have to worry about. From a safety standpoint, I am all for it.

My problems with the idea come into play if driverless roads either replace regular highways entirely, making a given road the only one for a certain commute, or emerge as equivalents of the Coquihalla Highway. That highway was a godsend for the Vancouver-Kelowna commute, trimming hours off travel time. It’d be a huge issue if a road like that opened and it was only for driverless cars.

Driverless cars would be the way of the future, and thus the way the manufacturers and policymakers would sway when making decisions. It may not start off as a driver versus driverless dilemma, but it would become that. The economics would favour the driverless, and the people who still have to drive their cars would be left behind.

In a perfect world, we could all afford driverless cars, we’d all be able to use the segregated highways, and it would be fine. Either the old highways would be converted to the newer style, or we’d keep them for those who like being in control too much to let a robot drive for them. That would be fine.

But when we start dividing the population according to what the people have and don’t have, according to what they can or can’t afford, we contribute to a systemic inequality. There will be inequality for as long as we allow it. That sucks.

But you know what we can do? We can try to stop the systemic inequality that already plagues us, and for Pete’s sake, we can stop adding problems that we’ll only need to unravel later.

It’s simple. Separate, driverless highways might be a great idea for safety and efficiency, but do not prioritize the more profitable venture at the expense of those who cannot afford the luxury.

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