The last century was full of transitional terms like cordless phone or horseless carriages. These clunky words are a language’s way of coming to terms with something that is a generational leap from, yet oddly similar to, what it replaces. Instead of waiting on a federal solution, Florida is creating welcoming policies for what will surely be this century’s first transitional term: the driverless car.
The most eye opening trait of driverless cars is not their precision or efficiency – it’s their variety. Just as trucks, sport cars, and SUVs all have different uses, so too will there be dozens of different autonomous vehicles with many different purposes. We will be adding an entirely new ecosystem of transportation on top of our existing infrastructure. Roads, parking, and transportation habits will all radically change. This requires planning.
Fortunately the federalist system allows for states to be policy laboratories and Florida has already some of the most pro-autonomous vehicle legislation on the books. Recently, Representative Jason Fischer and Senator Jeff Brandes introduced legislation which will safely and smartly guide the next step of Florida’s autonomous revolution and make Florida more competitive for this emerging industry. House Bill 353, which is supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is far from alone. Michigan passed their first legislative package last year, allowing driverless cars to lawfully operate on their streets. Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee all have passed similar legislation. Each piece of legislation is different, and all will need periodic updating. Laws that were once state-of-the-art will have to be replaced only a few years later for being obsolete.
Not everyone will welcome the transition. For some, the freedom that a car represents will keep the tradition of human drivers alive and on our highways, surely causing many headaches and difficulties. Many might feel uneasy about giving up control of their car. Special interest groups have already started opposition lobbying efforts, including personal injury trial attorneys in Florida and California. But hopefully it will only be a matter of time before these operating systems reduce the seemingly endless supply of car accidents and the easy lawsuits that accompany them.
For the interests of our society at large, this transition cannot come soon enough. According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 37,461 people died in the on our roads in 2016 and over two million injured. Over 94 percent of these crashes are attributed to human error, such as drunk driving, speeding, or distracted driving. As long as we responsibly allow this new technology to grow and expand, there is another term we may soon render obsolete: driver error.