Even If Driverless Cars Are Banned In America, They'll Be Allowed Somewhere

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 24 2013 5:13 PM

Even If Driverless Cars Are Banned In America, They'll Be Allowed Somewhere

114334492
People ride the 'citymobil', the first received electric driverless car ('Cybercars'), on May 12, 2011 in La Rochelle, western France, on the inauguration day of this collective transport system aiming at reducing both traffic and pollution.

Photo by PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images

Will autonomous computer-piloted automobiles change the world? Some say yes others say no. I've been known to have my doubts that they'll clear regulatory hurdles, and Megan McArdle observes that the structure of personal injury litigation in the United States could be a major challenge. But she also points to the reason I'm fundamentally optimistic, namely that the United States isn't an island.

She says that "If driverless cars happen, I expect they'll be pioneered in Europe, and only grudgingly be adopted here."

Advertisement

The bigger story is that this is a reason why American relative decline and rising incomes in Asia is something we should welcome rather than fear. There are all kinds of situations in which policymakers face tradeoffs between innovation and other kinds of priorities. And different sets of policymakers are going to make different decisions about the tradeoffs. In a world where the United States is an overwhelmingly large player, then any poor tradeoffs we make are difficult to revisit. But in a more diverse world, someone else might do it. For autonomous cars to get off the ground, they really only need to get off the ground in one place. That could be California, but it could also be Germany or Brazil or China or Japan.

My guess would be that promising-but-scary technology is more likely to be pioneered in a poorer country, since as people get wealthier they tend to become more risk averse and prioritize safety. But if something proves really useful and basically safe in some subset of countries, the pressure to change the rules elsewhere should become intense.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.