It’s a given that almost all new technologies foster some unintended consequences. Take mobile phones: what was once viewed as revolutionary is now something ubiquitous. But the ubiquity of mobile phones has resulted in 1.3 million vehicle crashes in 2011—a full 23% of auto collisions that year involved cell phones. Despite the large number of incidents, the laws around texting while driving vary widely. Thirteen states— Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—all ban drivers from using mobile phones while driving. Forty-four states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all ban text messaging while driving.
It makes one wonder how the U.S.—either federally or state-by-state—or any government for that matter, will determine how to react to the emergence of commercially available self-driving autonomous cars. What was once viewed as “science fiction” is soon to be a reality on the roads. As Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan School of Management, told the Wall Street Journal, “About 10 years ago, I was teaching a class at MIT. One of the topics of discussion was what machines can do and what machines can’t do. One of my examples of things that machines can’t do was drive a car.” Fast-forward to 2012, when Brynjolfsson was able to take a test drive in a fully automated Google car. And, Google’s not the only innovator working on self-driving cars—Nissan has committed to having commercially viable autonomous drive vehicles on the road by 2020. So, it’s not a matter of if, but when.