Tesla CEO Elon Musk has no problem sharing his opinions, and his latest supposition concerns the self-driving cars his company and others are working to put on the road.
Autonomous cars will be so much safer than human drivers that they might lead to an outright ban on people getting behind the wheel, Musk said at a recent Nvidia conference.
“In the distant future, I think people may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous,” Automotive News (subscription required) reports him as saying. “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”
Not that Musk wants this to happen. He subsequently noted on Twitter that Tesla doesn’t advocate a full machine takeover.
While Tesla is working on autonomous technology, it envisions an “Autopilot” system that can take over under certain circumstances, but is built around the assumption that owners will still want to drive themselves.
“To be clear, Tesla is is strongly in favor of people being allowed to drive their cars and always will be,” he wrote, adding, “Hopefully that is obvious.”
However, he still claimed that, when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars “the public may outlaw the latter.”
Musk is saying what many self-driving skeptics are likely thinking, and while it’s too early to predict exactly how the public will react to autonomous vehicles, there is some logic to this doomsday scenario.
The promised safety impact of self-driving cars can only be realized if there are a lot of self-driving cars on the road. Every human-driven car introduces more unpredictability to the system.
For maximum efficiency, some engineers have also proposed networking cars into “platoons,” with several vehicles moving together as one unit. This definitely won’t be possible on a large scale if the majority of cars aren’t automated.
Given that, it’s not hard to imagine groups like insurance companies, carmakers, or the government pushing people to give up driving.
The real question, though, is how drivers will actually react. Will they fight for the the right to drive? Or will they not even care?
There will probably be significant resistance at first, but it’s possibly that as more people opt out of driving, the pool of those with the ability to drive will shrink.
It’s too early to write a eulogy for the non-automated car, but Musk’s remarks should remind those who enjoy driving not to take it for granted.