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The Revolution Is Coming

Walter Russell Mead

The self-driving revolution is moving forward on all cylinders. The NYT reports:

Federal auto safety regulators on Monday made it official: They are betting the nation’s highways will be safer with more cars driven by machines and not people.

In long-awaited guidelines for the booming industry of automated vehicles, the Obama administration promised strong safety oversight, but sent a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars. […]

The government’s endorsement will speed up the rollout of autonomous cars, experts said, potentially within the next five years.

Cleaner air, happier lives, higher incomes, less CO2, fewer road deaths, exurban growth, more space, more freedom, more leisure time: Autonomous vehicles, if they fulfill even a part of their promise, will do more to make this country green than all the climate NGOs put together, save more lives than Mothers Against Drunk Driving could dream of, and transform human life more than any invention since the personal computer.

The infrastructure surge that America needs isn’t a massive expansion of New Deal-style bridges and tunnels. It’s the design and ultimately the construction of the roads and cities of the future that work with and support these new technologies. As Lyft co-founder John Zimmer argues, autonomous car-sharing will likely take millions of cars off the road in the coming decades, so any infrastructure investment should put “people, not cars, at the center.”

This is bad news news for a lot of liability lawyers and insurance companies, but also for truck drivers and mechanics. Many existing lines of work will be swept up in the churn of the next transportation revolution. The disruption will be unpredictable and sometimes painful, but ultimately unleash a cascade of opportunity and prosperity beyond our wildest dreams.

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