Driverless cars are already pretty safe for passengers, but they also may be unsafe for local government. The Brookings Institution found that Google cars logged more than 1.7 million miles and experienced just 11 accidents, none of which were the cars’ (or the cars’ programmers’) fault. That data suggests it’s quite possible that driverless vehicles will, one day, be the norm and bad driving will be a thing of the past. Wither the ticket?
As TechDirt rightly points out, we, as a society, rely on traffic violations. Red light violation fees are $490 in California. Even DUIs provide money to the government that taxpayers would otherwise have to pay.
With driverless vehicles, technological advances threaten to empty city coffers, leaving many towns at a proverbial crossroads. If we move toward universal driverless cars, we’ll need to find new ways of ticketing people or levy new taxes. The problem is that this would disproportionately affect those with lower incomes because they would not benefit as quickly from the cars, but would likely — unless domestic politics take a Scandinavian swing — have to pay higher taxes. The flip side is that we’d be footing fewer ER bills for car crash victims, but those expenses don’t line up.
The rollout of driverless cars will take long enough that governments should be able to determine new ways to collect funds, but some politician is going to have to be the first to speak up on that issue and, probably, lose a subsequent election.