Ian Blodger, MJLST Staff Member
Tesla Motors recently announced a software update to its Model S that will allow the vehicle to drive autonomously on highways. This development may be the first step toward an almost entirely autonomous vehicle fleet. This change to transportation could have profound implications on everything from city density to traffic safety.
Autonomous vehicles may eventually increase urban density by reducing the requirement for parking spaces in cities. Tesla’s update will give its vehicles the ability to drive completely autonomously from a parking spot to pick up the vehicle owner. While Tesla states that this feature should currently be used only on private property, the programming opens up the possibility of radical changes to the current cityscape. Under the current transportation model, people who commute to work in larger cities must also find a place to park their car during the day. Additionally, this location must be relatively close to the person’s place of work. With autonomous vehicles, however, commuters could be dropped off by their vehicle, which would then find parking outside the city. At the end of the day, the commuter would call their car to pick them up and drive home. This would allow developers to maximize the function of valuable real estate inside cities, currently being used only to park cars. Additionally, parking outside the city center could reduce costs for vehicle owners, since parking structures would have less financial overhead to account for in pricing. Essentially, the currently available technology will eventually allow for increased efficiency of valuable city real estate.
Moreover, autonomous vehicles could provide improved efficiency for commuters on their way to work. Since commuters will not need to concentrate on driving, they could pay attention to other tasks, like preparing for the workday. While Tesla’s updates may not quite allow the vehicle owner to divert their full attention from the road, it gets close. As the quality of autonomous vehicle programming improves and the number of autonomous vehicles increases, commuters will be able to invest their full attention in things other than driving.
Besides these general efficiency improvements, autonomous vehicles may have the added benefit of decreasing motorist deaths. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, the United States has more than more than 37,000 traffic deaths each year. Since many of these deaths are caused by driver error, allowing vehicles to take the wheel could save thousands of lives each year. Tesla’s updates are just the first step to improving the safety and efficiency of our roadways.
The Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology recently held a symposium on the legal and social implications of autonomous vehicle technology, and will be publishing a number of articles adapted from speaker’s presentations in the upcoming Spring 2015 issue of Volume 16. The articles vary widely in their analyses of the social and legal implications of autonomous vehicles, and will be a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the subject.