Cars

Tech Can’t Fix the Problem of Cars – The New York Times

Summary

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

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.

There’s also a risk that devoting our attention to these technological marvels may give…….

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

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.

There’s also a risk that devoting our attention to these technological marvels may give us a pass from confronting a deeper question: 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.

I’ve been thinking about the risk and reward of faith in technology recently because of a new book by Peter Norton, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. Dr. Norton detailed decades of unfulfilled promises by carmakers and tech companies that some invention was just around the corner to free us from the worst aspects of our car dependency.

Radio waves, divided highway engineering, transistors and technology repurposed from targeted bombs were all pitched at points after World War II as ways of delivering an automobile utopia. Dr. Norton told me that the technologies were often half-baked, but that the idea behind them was that “anyone can drive anywhere at any time and park for free and there would be no crashes.”

These technologies never delivered, and Dr. Norton said he doubted that driverless cars would either. “The whole boondoggle depends on us agreeing that high tech is better tech. That just doesn’t stand up,” he said.

This is not only Dr. Norton’s view. Even most driverless-car optimists now say the technology won’t be ready to hit the roads in large numbers for many more years.

Our health and that of the planet will significantly improve if we switch to electric cars. They are one focus of the global climate summit underway in Glasgow. And taking error-prone drivers out of the equation could make our roads much safer. But making better cars isn’t a cure-all.

Popularizing electric vehicles comes with the risk of entrenching car dependency, as my New York Times Opinion colleague Farhad Manjoo wrote. Driverless cars may encourage more miles on the road, which could make traffic and sprawl worse. (Uber and similar services once also promised that they would …….

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/technology/electric-vehicles-driverless-cars.html