When Tyler Durden said, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero,” he apparently wasn’t thinking creatively enough about the power of regulation against automobile accidents and mortality. Kevin Roose, writing at Fusion, is not similarly constrained about regulation’s ability to overcome such limitations.
In a calm and measured piece, Roose goes all-in and makes a case for why “Driving Should Be Illegal.” Notice it’s “a” case and not “the” case, partly because the idea is ridiculous on its face and partly because this is the starting line from which he switches from an inapt analogy about pharmaceuticals (“no matter how radically effective the miracle drug was, its human toll made it an unacceptable hazard”) to actually discussing the subject: “We tend to forget that despite their central place in global transportation and commerce, cars are toxic, inefficient killing machines.”
Ahh, yes, just like pharmaceuticals. We all know Cialis is an inefficient and toxic killing machine responsible for large portions of global transportation and commerce, and central to growing the economy. Wait, no, Cialis is responsible for different forms of locomotion and growth. Nonetheless, cars really are toxic, inefficient killing machines. Volkswagen, for example, is about to get penalized up the tailpipe for delivering too much fuel efficiency to its customers.
The Government Is Here to Help
Their horror is not limited to government-mandated inefficiency. Just look at the numbers. “In terms of lives lost, cars are one of the most destructive inventions in human history, rivaled only by gunpowder.” He doesn’t give any numbers. There is but one solution.
I want really high taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. I want to ban human drivers ASAP. And I want gun control. It's not an either/or.
— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) October 2, 2015
Let’s give Roose credit. He is more focused than Matthews, for now, if still completely unmoored from reality. In case you think his title is hyperbolic, it is not. The man really wants to ban driving. Completely and totally. Never fear, though, he’s thought about what we’ll do once driving is banned, and his solution is extremely practical and affordable.
Luckily, there is a solution. Self-driving cars, currently being developed by Google, Mercedes, Tesla, and a handful of other companies, are on their way. Collectively, over the last few years of testing, self-driving cars have navigated millions of miles of roads, and they already appear to be safer and more efficient than human drivers.
Of course! We’re going to science our way to safety and we’re going to do it on the cheap. Mercedes and Tesla vehicles are super-affordable, after all. They’re especially affordable when your family size necessitates you buy at least two self-driving models to get you all out of the house at the same time. Given the destructive power of the automobile, though, it really is a small price to pay.
Roll Out the Five-Year Plan
In his defense, Roose does acknowledge the costs. He just doesn’t care—because if there’s one lesson history has proven time and time again, it’s that command-and-control economies are awesome.
If Congress passed a law banning driving tomorrow, automakers would be incentivized to put reliable self-driving cars onto the market as quickly as possible. Funding would pour into autonomous driving R&D efforts, the cost of production would nosedive, and affordable self-driving cars could become a reality far sooner than expected.
Hey, it worked for health insurance, it’s got to work again. Especially as we’re again talking about public health and mitigating risk. When it comes to such things, liberty can suck it. As Roose continues, “But passing laws that protect us from harm is a good idea, even if some liberty is lost as a result.”
Actually, that’s a terrible idea. We’re a nation forged in the crucible of revolution, and liberty is supposed to be our thing. Rather, it was our thing. Then some of us got overly skittish and decided we can defeat risk if we put just the right regulations and bans in place. (Spoiler alert: We can’t, but whatever. Good intentions and all that.)
There is another angle to this, one such hopeless public transport romantics often miss. Sure, we as a nation like to drive. I personally love to drive. There is something exquisite about my right foot meeting masterful engineering.
But that isn’t why those of us living in flyover country bitterly cling to those steering wheels. It’s because for us a car is more than just a tool to get from point A to point B. It’s not solely a means of getting from home to the office, it’s also a tool for hauling people and things between those points. For some, such as builders and construction workers, it is frequently their actual office. But since they tend not to be well-represented in dense urban centers, central planners tend to ignore them.
Transportation: More than Delivering Bodies
Central planners also ignore that public transportation is sparse out here in flyover country. Not only is it sparse, public transportation tends to frown upon those who carry hunting rifles and lumber. Could self-driving cars deliver two-by-fours and haul kids on field trips? I suppose. Can a self-driving car pull over and help someone who needs a jumpstart or learn to slow down and stop when you see an old barn you want to photograph? Sure. It has to have a kill switch or respond to voice commands or something.
But can it be programmed to drive extra slowly and with the headlights off as when a deer hunter parks just before he heads out to walk to his stand? How will it handle a quick turnaround to head home because we forgot our lunch? Will it “allow” us to pull over in rural Alabama because that three-year-old isn’t going to hold it any longer and the side of the road just became good enough?
And Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Of course, the answer to all those questions is “who cares?” Roose may assert, “It’s time for America to act in the best interest of its citizens, and not let our atavistic attachment to car culture get in the way of one of the most significant global health achievements in human history,” but he gives away the game, Orwell-style. For when a progressive starts talking regulations aimed at global or public health, he’s about to deliver some fascism and call it freedom.
This is still America, dammit. A place where we value opportunity and choice. Yes, we do have an “atavistic attachment” to various aspects of our culture, including cars. People who want a mere conveyance to get them from their childless apartment to the skinny jeans store and don’t have such attachments, by all means let them have their self-driving cars. For those of us with kids and dogs and detours along the miles of road between here and there, just stop it. We’re on a journey, and don’t need moral busybodies messing up our good time.