Driving Might Become the New Biking

Recently I’ve had a few discussions with people who are nervous about self-driving cars, mostly because they find driving fun. They’re worried that we’re entering a brave new world where people won’t be allowed to drive for fun anymore.

I think this is a legitimate concern, but my response is that driving will become like biking.

Biking today is primarily a leisure activity that people do for fun. Except in a certain uncommon (and usually urban) instances, biking is rarely the most efficient or fastest way to transport yourself.

Once self-driving cars become common, I expect to see much the same thing. We might see certain roads designated only for human-driven cars, just like many paths are designated specifically for bikes today.

And it won’t shock me if we see a replay of some of the cyclist vs. driver road rage in the form of human drivers vs human passengers in self-driving cars, all trying to use the same road.

My model for thinking about how human-driven cars will map onto the self-driving road system is to think about how bikes map onto the current human-driven road system.

There are a lot of bike-only paths, often along scenic routes. Outside of those routes, cyclists will often use slower, smaller, residential streets for biking. The instances in which cyclists need to use main commuting thoroughfares are the situations in which bike-car conflict is the greatest.

So I can imagine scenic roads, like US 1 in California, or Skyline Drive in Virginia, being set aside specifically for human drivers. This might be especially true if self-driving cars ultimately attain speeds far beyond what human drivers can safely handle today.

Big interstate highways, though, might become the domain of computer-driven cars traveling hundreds of miles per hour.

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