The Salt-Box More fidgety than expected

Why Self-Driving Cars Won't Help Me (Yet)

As a lot of people know, my wife and I spend a lot of time driving our kid to soccer. It’s about 1’45” each way to practices and games, unless there’s traffic. And there’s often traffic.

When people first learn that fact, they tend to say, “well, he’ll be able to drive himself soon,” except of course he won’t because if he’s driving, when exactly is he supposed to do his homework?

Then, people often joke, “so I guess you’re really excited about self-driving cars, then!” And it’s true! I am, broadly speaking, excited about self-driving cars. I don’t much enjoy driving in itself, and look forward to not really having to do it all that much. One of my favorite times in higher ed was when I commuted by train to UWM for the first two years of my doctoral program, because I could sleep or study on the train–in fact, one year, my advisor and I had an independent study that met on the train! So self-driving cars can’t come fast enough. (Actually, I’m pretty stressed about what self-driving cars will do to society/employment, so that’s not wholly true.)

Like a lot of us who are intrigued by self-driving cars, but not super-knowledgeable about them, the recent Uber accident has been instructive as well as tragic. It’s been helpful reading Brad Templeton’s discussions of the accident, in part because it’s helped me realize something that probably should’ve been obvious: There’s no way a self-driving car will help with our soccer commute, at least not in the 2 years it’s still a relevant issue.

The problem is that even in a self-driving car you need the driver to pay at least some attention:

To top all this, safety drivers, if the company is not careful, are probably more likely to fatigue and look away from the road than ordinary drivers in their own cars. After all, it is actually safer to do so than it is to do in your own car. Tesla autopilot owners are also notoriously bad at this. Perversely, the lower the intervention rate, the more likely it is people will get tempted.

If he were in a self-driving car in the near future, then, our kid would either 1) not be able to get his homework done because he’d still have to monitor the road, or 2) be a terribly inattentive driver and thus a safety risk.

Too bad, because I hate to see a good joke spoiled! (I mean, we were never going to be buying a self-driving car in an early generation, anyway, thanks to debt) We’ll just have to wait until we’re to old to drive safely ourselves . . .