The Monorail Society

Driverless Cars - A Dangerous Dead-End

University of Virgina Engineering and Society professor Peter Norton’s 2021 book Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving argues that driverless cars cannot be the safe, sustainable, and inclusive mobility solutions that tech companies and automakers promise.

He writes: We are once again being sold car dependency in the guise of mobility. With driverless cars, we’re promised that technology will solve the problems that car dependency gave us—zero crashes! zero emissions! zero congestion! But these are the same promises that have kept us on a treadmill of car dependency for 80 years.

Professor Norton advocates wise, proven, humane mobility that we can invest in now, without waiting for technology that is forever just out of reach.  We can meet our mobility needs with what we have right now.

In a recent UVA Alumni magazine article about future trends, Professor Norton says We’re being sold a future of more car dependency, in the form of autonomous vehicles. In the long run, what we need to do is adapt our geography so it’s more cost- effective to have transit, walking and cycling.

Such a shift would run counter to the past 80 years or so, when cars have been promoted as the solution to all our transportation needs, whether it’s a quick trip for a cup of coffee or a cross-country vacation. Self-driving vehicles are merely the latest example of this peddling of a car-dependent future in which the latest automotive technology can solve our problems.

The transport sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and advancements in technology alone can’t solve sustainability issues. As dazzling as the technology is, electric and autonomous vehicles are still cars—energy-intensive solutions to everyday transportation needs.

I am as impressed as the salespeople are at what the technology can do, but the technology does not make dependency work. Everything that makes cars inefficient, expensive, unsustainable, spatially wasteful, all of those defects remain in toto. We need to do more.

The future depends on offering people more options. We can still have driving in the future, but we need to have a lot less of it.

TMS agrees. While rail technology sits idly by (technology that could cut our carbon footprint in half tomorrow), we pour billions into the search for automobile based solutions, all the while weeks, months and years pass with only two significant changes: we are burning more oil each year, and the world is getting hotter each year.

The US must make electric rail mass-transit technology its primary transportation monetary investment. It is far more energy efficient to move people en-masse than individually. And we must make these changes today! Every day delayed is greater harm to future generations.

TMS - 4/30/2022