The promise of electric and driverless cars is that vehicles can become better for the planet and safer for us. Those are worthy goals, although there are significant barriers to getting mass numbers of such cars on the road. How can we make our lives less dependent on cars?
After decades of putting the automobile at the center of America’s transportation plans and policy, we’re now dealing with the downsides, like air pollution, traffic, road deaths, sprawl and the crowding out of alternative ways to move people and products. The solution to problems caused partly by cars may not only be using different kinds of cars, but also remaking our world to rely on them less. Peter Norton, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, detailed in his book decades of unfulfilled promises by carmakers that some invention was just around the corner to free us from the worst aspects of our car dependency. He said that the technologies were often half-baked, but that the idea behind them was that “anyone can drive anywhere at any time and there would be no crashes.” These technologies never delivered. The future of transportation needs to include more energy efficient and safer cars, he said.
We know that tech improves our lives. But we also know that belief in the promise of tech turns us away from confronting the root causes of our problems.