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Will Autonomous Autos End Up Legislating You Off the Road?

driverless cars united kingdom

Bob Lutz, a fixture in the Detroit auto industry for 47 years, told the Michigan Venture Capital Association early this month that “human-driven cars will be forced off the roads by safety regulators” in the near future because they will “mess up the autonomous environment.”

“I will absolutely guarantee that electronic technology in autonomous vehicles is going to reduce serious and fatal accidents in the United States by at least 90 percent,” said Lutz, who was most recently the vice chairman of General Motors until 2010. And he promised the accident rate would fall even further once human beings were outlawed from sitting behind steering wheels.

Autonomous autos are not a revolution that will affect only the United States. Lutz wrote in Automotive News that in the next 15 to 20 years, humans wouldn’t be allowed to touch a steering wheel anywhere in the world.

“The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents,” Lutz wrote. “Everyone will have five years to get their cars off the road or sell it for scrap.”

Andrew Stuttaford, contributing editor of National Review, called the idea that government could or should legislate people off the roads “highway robbery.”

“If such (autonomous) cars do bring such practical benefits (and they could well), people will choose them for themselves, and only a stubborn minority — a minority too small to disrupt the smooth operation of a driverless traffic system — will stick with their retrograde jalopies,” Stuttaford wrote. “Even if we put the question of individual freedom to one side (and we should not), if driverless cars turn out to be as good as some predict they ought not to need compulsion to back them up.”

But only cars that drive themselves might soon be allowed on one stretch of interstate highway in Wisconsin. And New York City officials have been told by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) they need to get ready for an autonomous auto future whether they like it or not.

Wisconsin officials are considering changing one lane of I-94 to autonomous-only because that’s what Foxconn wants. The Chinese company has agreed to build a 20-million-square-foot factory to make half-a-million iPhones a day and would like one lane of I-94 set aside for self-driving trucks to transport supplies and products to and from the plant near Racine.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said Foxconn dropped that bombshell on regional officials when they were showing off plans for widening I-94 to eight lanes.

“They looked at us and said, ‘So where’s the autonomous lanes?’” Sheehy told a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. “We were all dumbstruck.”