Autonomous Vehicles – Michigan’s Technological Future?

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There has been much talk over the last few years about whether or not autonomous vehicles are the future. For those who are in favor it’s a no brainer – removing human error will only result in safer roads for everyone. Add to that the number of lives that will be saved by eliminating drunk and drugged driving, and it would be foolish to opt for anything else.


However not everyone agrees with this assessment. By automating the cars of the future, we would be eliminating a huge number of jobs, which include truck drivers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs, and ride-sharing, which according to statistics provided by government studies, accounts for over 4 million jobs in the U.S.


Wolf Richter, a blogger who addresses financial and business issues on his blog Wolf Street, believes that whether we like it or not, autonomous vehicles are inevitable at this point. In a column he wrote about this particular issue, Richter explains his stance. “There will be delays, setbacks, and gruesome accidents. Some people will call for putting an end to this. And others will refuse to get into those cars. But this is happening.”


For Michigan residents, this issue is particularly relevant. Last year in late 2016, Republican state senator Mike Kowall introduced a bill that would make it legal for driverless vehicles to drive around in Michigan. The reason, Kowall says, is because he wants to “plant a flag here” in the Mitten state. This bill, he says, will ensure that the new and developing autonomous vehicle technology that is already happening here, would stay centered in Michigan.


After all, as the the ‘Auto Capital of the World’ a great deal of Michigan’s history and economy has been closely tied to the automobile industry. So it should come as no surprise that Uber, the ride-sharing service, intends to open a technical center in Wixom during 2017. The plan, they say, is to continue the development of self-driving autonomous vehicles here in Michigan.


Some Michigan residents are cheering this on, claiming that Michigan is the perfect place to develop and test self-driving cars. This sentiment comes in part because Michigan’s economy took some very hard hits in the last recession and anything that looks like an opportunity for work should be celebrated. But that brings us back to the 4.1 million driving jobs that could possibly be lost when all cars are automated. Is this really a good idea?


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Every day, 28 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 53 minutes.” For those who are pro use of automated vehicles, this data is very relevant. In addition, when one considers the fact that the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion, it is easy to see why so many people are in favor.


Other statistics that work in favor of automated vehicles include the fact that in 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. This means that almost one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States were the result of drunk drivers. Additionally, of the 209 child passengers, aged 14 and younger who, died in alcohol related car crashes in 2014, more than half were riding in a vehicle with an intoxicated driver. So how does this stack up against 4.1 million lost jobs? A hard question to answer…


At this point, while autonomous vehicles are still in their infancy, the question we should be asking ourselves isn’t whether or not this is the future, but rather, whether or not it should be the future? Is the potential financial saving and reduced number of drunk driving arrests and crashes worth the risk? Is it worth the loss of jobs and the potential loss of autonomy as human beings? Are we willing to give up control in favor of safety and savings? The answer remains to be seen.



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