The negatives now outweigh the positives
When the automobile first appeared, it was a toy for the rich to play with. Everyone else relied on horses and the world continued to turn. Unfortunately, Henry Ford then decided to make the car a mass market product that everyone could afford. In a short space of time, horses were discarded and several thousand stables went into liquidation, throwing a significant number of people out of work. Automobiles have always had positives and negatives attached to them. With more efficient transport, economic activity boomed. This brought improved wages and more people could move up in class. When they bought their own cars, they had more fun. Today, there are more than one-billion vehicles on the roads of the world. Like any good addiction, the use of private transport has spread.
Now think of the negatives. It’s a massive source of pollution. You spend about ninety-billion hours of your life sitting in traffic — in some cities, about one-third of total gas used is burned looking for somewhere to park. And the automobile injures and kills people. Around the world, it’s estimated more than one-million people die every year and more than fifty-million are injured — these are only the accidents reported and recorded so these numbers will be an underestimate.
Against this background, it’s not surprising we should be looking for ways to improve our world’s use of private transport. We should all want driving to pollute less, become a more efficient means of getting to our destinations, and be less fatal to other road users. Sadly, this is going to mean displacing the human from behind the wheel, forcing the adoption of power sources not derived from fossil fuels, and building a new electronic infrastructure to make driving safer. Connected vehicles can avoid crashing into each other, can find open parking slots, and can be integrated into traffic management systems that reduce the level of congestion.
That means automobiles have to become more smart. Some already come with systems to keep them a minimum distance from the vehicles in front while staying in lane and maintaining a constant speed. Self-parking cars are already here. Some cars even have emergency telephone systems that call for help if they detect a crash. Other vehicles can be alerted and be advised to change their routes. Road pricing systems can bill people for every mile traveled. This is going to require governments to be involved. There will have to be common standards to allow vehicles to talk with each other and with the city traffic management systems. The lawmakers will also have to set deadlines for cars to be connected and capable of being run together in automated convoys. This is not just for new vehicles. Older vehicles will have to be retrofitted. Voters will have to be convinced the cost will generate real benefits. Money will have to be spent placing monitoring beacons on roads and parking spaces. The aim should be to restore the efficiency of early private transport without the negatives.