When self-driving vehicles become safer than human-driven ones, the government will ban people from driving. Or that, at least, is the claim made in some recent articles in Automotive News and National Review. Bob Lutz, former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors, declares in Automotive News that vehicles "will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years—at the latest—human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways." By the time 20 to 30 percent of vehicles on the roads are fully autonomous, Lutz argues, officials "will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents."
Most self-driving vehicles, he believes, will be standardized modules ordered and operated by big transportation fleet companies; riders will summon them with the touch of a screen or a voice command to a digital assistant. Human driving of high-end specialty vehicles will continue, Lutz predicts, but only as an elite pastime confined to country clubs and the equivalent of motorsport dude ranches. "The era of the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships, the media surrounding it—all will be gone in 20 years," he writes.
Similarly, National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke writes: "At some point in the future, be it years, decades, or a century hence, the federal government will seek to ban driving." Cooke agrees that those seeking to ban human driving will base their arguments on the dramatically lower level of highway carnage that self-driving vehicles will bring about.
Lutz is more or less resigned to a future where human driving is banned, but Cooke fiercely argues for resisting any such ban. Indeed, he urges the adoption of a constitutional amendment: "Congress shall make no law restricting adults from driving licensed vehicles."
In the 20th century, Cooke points out, automobiles were machines of liberation enabling people to go where they wanted when they wanted without having to tell anyone what they were up to. In contrast, the fleet owner of automous vehicles would know where the car picked you up, where it let you out, and how many passengers traveled with you. The company will probably also monitor you via video to make sure you don't vandalize the module. Cooke argues that such a vehicle "would become a telescreen on wheels—an FBI-approved bug, to be slipped beneath the chassis in plain sight of the surveilled. At a stroke, my autonomy would be gone."
Cooke has a point. Still the fact is that our robocar travels will add only a bit more to the copious data exhaust we already leave in our wakes as we wander through the world using our credit cards, Apple Pay, ride-hailing services, E-Z passes, and mobile telephones. Protecting our privacy from government snooping will take far more than guaranteeing folks the right to drive themselves. (For example, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case in which police demanded without a warrant the geolocation cell phone data that they used to prosecute a suspected armed robber.)
Whether or not human driving is ever actually banned, a good first step toward for protecting our privacy, including our privacy while traveling in self-driving vehicles, would be the adoption of the Geolocational and Privacy Surveillance Act. This law would require the government to show probable cause and get a warrant before acquiring the geolocational information of any U.S. person. The act would apply "to all law enforcement acquisitions of the geolocational information of individual Americans without their knowledge, including acquisition from commercial service providers as well as direct acquisitions using 'Stingrays' and similar devices or tracking devices covertly installed by the government." The act would require a warrant for real-time tracking of a person's movements and for the acquisition of records of past movements.
In any case, most folks will probably switch voluntarily to hiring self-driving vehicles on demand—not just because they're safer, but because using them is projected to cost as much as 75 percent less than owning a car. It will be interesting to see how much liability insurance will cost folks who still want to drive on public roads in world where automobile accidents will have become very rare. Don't be surprised if it's the market, not the government, that ends up "banning" human-driven automobiles.