Do you like driving? I do. It’s not about speed. It’s about freedom. It’s about choice. Car in the garage. Keys in hand. Hands on wheel. We choose where we go and when we go, and we choose how we get there. With the rise of self-driving cars, an army of experts would have us believe freedom and choice are a bad thing. From behind the banner of safety, they claim autonomous technology will save us from the tyranny and danger of human control. Their strategy is to claim that autonomous technology creates an either/or scenario where human driving is in conflict with safety.
That strategy is based on a lie.
Despite a storm of clickbait media reports, there is still little evidence that self-driving cars are safer than humans. We don't know what "safe" or "safer" means. There is no government regulation defining a safety standard, nor has any self-driving car maker declared what that standard might be.
Unless self-driving car technology is demonstrably safer than humans—and even if it is—human freedom and choice must come first. We don’t need to sacrifice safety for freedom. The same technology that enables self-driving cars will allow humans to retain control within the safe confines of automation. Those that say otherwise seek to profit from reducing our freedoms, rather than make us safer while protecting them.
If our safety was the experts' first principle, the billions invested in self-driving cars would have gone to subsidizing free professional driving school, raising licensing standards, and making critical safety technologies like seat belts, airbags, ABS and automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard as soon as they were invented.
The banner of "safety" may fly on the flagpole of autonomy, but it is raised by the hands of profit. Ironically, we already have autonomy, but it is organic autonomy, which isn’t as easy to monetize as machine autonomy. Organic autonomy—which is 100% human control over machines—has been increasingly exploited for profit in the form of onerous speed and traffic enforcement and discriminatory court fees, both of which are taxation by other means. Cloaked in the propaganda of self-driving cars, The War On Driving has now unzipped its pants to reveal its next phase: the frictionless monetization of autonomy by elimination of its organic component—that's us.
The very language of self-driving is slavery, not only to the idea that machines will be better than humans, but that we have nothing to add to the safety equation until they are. That language—as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)—also assumes that there is no cathartic value to our safe and responsible control over a car, anywhere, at any speed.
The perfect car of the future isn’t one without a steering wheel. The perfect car of the future
is self-driving when we allow it, and—if and when we choose to take the wheel—won’t let us harm anyone else.
“Perfect” systems are fallible, but so are we, which is why the best system must combine the best of human and machine intelligence. If self-driving cars demonstrably safer than humans ever arrive, they will do so in fits and starts, over many decades, which is why we must deploy partial automation, as it manifests, in harmony with human nature.
There are two schools of partial automation: the increasingly popular Series, which temporarily substitutes for humans without any demonstrable safety benefit and almost certainly reduces safety over time, and Parallel, which augments our abilities while protecting our freedoms.
In the meantime, we are free to start saving lives tomorrow, for far less than the billions (if not trillions) invested in a distant self-driving utopian future, if we choose to.
We cannot escape the march of technology, but we can channel it toward paths that strengthen rather than weaken us, expand our horizons rather than limit them, and guarantee that the car—once and still a symbol of freedom—doesn’t become a tool of the tyranny we seek to avoid.
To that end, I propose the following manifesto. We need to defend what we believe in while we have the chance. If we don't, we will surely lose the opportunity to have a voice at the table.
THE HUMAN DRIVING MANIFESTO
- We Are Pro-Human, in pursuit of life, liberty and freedom of movement, by any means that does not infringe upon the safety of others.
- We Are Pro-Technology, but only as a means, not an end. Technology is only as good as our understanding of it, and an incremental approach will save more lives in the near and long term while mitigating the second order consequences of an all-or-nothing approach.
- We Are Pro-Safety, through a combination of improved drivers education, deployment of Advanced Drivers Assistance Systems (ADAS)—such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) & Forward Collision Warning (FCW) Systems—and Parallel automation.
- We Support Raising Driver Licensing Standards. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Earn it, keep it. Abuse it, lose it. Periodic retesting is essential. Education must include familiarization with the capabilities and limitations of new safety technologies.
- We Support Defined Safety Standards & Transparency. "Safe" and "safer" must be defined, and claims by autonomous vehicle manufacturers and providers must be backed up by data shared publicly. If and when self-driving cars meet a regulatory safety standard, their deployment cannot infringe the public's freedom of movement.
- We Are Pro-Steering Wheel. No vehicle should be deployed without a steering wheel, and the Parallel automation to prevent a human driver from making a mistake.
- We Are Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. Pro-Choice in how people get from A to B, Pro-Life in the deployment of safety technologies that both save lives and preserve freedom, without which there is no quality of life.
- We Support Fairness and Due Process in the creation and enforcement of traffic laws. Human drivers have the right to a fair trial, to discovery, to confront their accuser, to a trial by jury, and are innocent until proven guilty. We are opposed to arbitrary traffic stops, indiscriminate license plate data collection and retention, unwarranted search and seizure, and incentive-driven speed and safety enforcement.
- We Support Freedom of Movement and Traffic Neutrality, guaranteeing free and open access to all transportation infrastructure regardless of income level, whether for human or self-driven cars, guaranteeing freedom of movement for all Americans, by whatever means.
- We Are Pro-Privacy. All connected services should be opt-in, not opt-out. All vehicles, whatever the level of automation, must be capable of operating completely independent of any communications network. If and when connectivity is required — i.e. within a clearly defined geofence — any and all driver/passenger information should be automatically anonymized.
- We Support New Classification Standards For Autonomous Vehicles, clarifying safety capabilities vs. human drivers, standardizing terminology for common functionalities, and the replacement of the SAE automation levels with a system whose language allows for alternative human-centric R&D paths.
- We Are Pro-Constitutional Amendment, creating a right to drive, within the limits of safety technologies that do not infringe upon our freedom of movement.
Times are changing, and we must change with them. If we fail to embrace and control technologies that support our freedom, we will become slaves to those who would turn it against us.
Want to learn more about why self-driving ubiquity isn't around the corner? Come to my SXSW presentation "Why Humans Won’t Ride Shotgun with Robo-Taxis" on Friday March 9.
Alex Roy — angel investor, Founder of the Human Driving Association, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, author of The Driver and Founder of Noho Sound — has set numerous endurance driving records around the world, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.