When Ford President Mark Fields announced this month that his company would produce a driverless car — with no steering wheel and no gas pedal — in five years, he did not mince words. Driverless cars, he said, “would have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago.”
A truly driverless car by Labor Day weekend of 2021 seems like a tall order. But autonomous technologies are already being added to existing cars at breakneck speed, and the early data suggest they are making cars safer. The much-publicized fatal accident in May involving a Tesla on “autopilot” was the first in 130 million miles traveled by other Teslas using the same, poorly named function.
The prospect of driverless cars poses all sorts of intriguing possibilities. Those who are sight-impaired or otherwise unable to drive would find new mobility. Traffic flows could be better managed as cars would be automatically routed to the least congested routes. And people with modest automotive needs could simply summon rides when needed, rather than wasting money on cars that spend much of their time parked in driveways.