A driverless future, the effects stretch beyond the road

A driverless future, the effects stretch beyond the road

If you honk your car horn and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

We may have an answer to that question within our lifetimes. Driverless cars are nothing new — and thus far, they’re nothing popular, either. We’re at least a decade away from them becoming widely used, according to Daniel Sperling, a distinguished professor of civil engineering and environmental science and policy at the University of California at Davis.

But when glancing over at the next car and seeing no one behind the wheel becomes a ho-hum moment instead of a shocking sight, it will signal a shift not just in transportation but in the way our transportation systems are built.

Imagine if, instead of spending your commute in the driver’s seat, you could sit in the backseat and get work done instead. The 15, 30 or 60 minutes lost to traffic could be regained.

That might make you more willing to live in Naples if your job is in Fort Myers, especially if more cars shift to lower-cost electric power. Communities deemed too far away won’t be anymore.

As nice as that sounds, it comes with consequences. More sprawl, and more cars on the road for a greater length of time, would only exacerbate growing congestion problems. So we return to the age-old questions of how to build an effective mass transportation system and how to encourage people to use it.

But perhaps the key challenge is to incentivize living and working in close proximity. That goes back to how we build not just roads but structures. And that requires vision and a willingness not just to do what’s always been done.

Stepping into a car without a driver will be a bold move, just a stepping into a car in the first place was for people in the early 1900s. We’ll need to take more bold moves like that to get to where we’re really going.

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