Chicago should take the wheel on driverless cars

In a trope as old as time, technology is progressing faster than people are ready for it. Driverless cars are now a real possibility, being tested in markets as close as Pittsburgh by Uber as a possible replacement for its current driver-based service. 

Chicago aldermen Edward Burke (14) and Anthony Beale (9), whom The Chicago Sun-Times proclaim to be some of the “most powerful” in the city according to its Sept. 14 article on the proposed ban, have made it their mission to stop the computer-programmed automobiles from entering Chicago before anyone even offers to bring them here.

The ban would prohibit both companies like Uber and the general public from using driverless vehicles. The justification is that the technology needs to be thoroughly tested before entering the Chicago market, and that the ban protects everyone from dangerous traffic situations.

While Chicago’s current traffic situation is unideal—with crowded roads and cars that do not always follow the law—and this controversial addition to the road could make it more complicated, it is a mistake to ban driverless cars out of fear of something relatively unknown.

The number of fatal car crashes in Illinois increases every year, and this year is already at 723 as of Sept. 23, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, adding to the fear of driverless cars. However, the automated automobiles have the potential to decrease these accidents by using sensors and GPS technology to brake the car when in danger.

All technology is intimidating when it is initially released. The first automobiles—with human drivers—took time to get used to and for all their kinks to be worked out, such as engine failure,  seat belts and airbag malfunctions. As more people began driving them, public fear subsided and transportation was revolutionized.

Banning driverless cars is inappropriate because Chicago should want to be an innovative city that is adapting to the latest and greatest technology available. Driverless cars need to be tested, but this is a given because all new technology must be before it’s implemented. 

While a small town may seem like the right place to test a driverless car because of the limited traffic issues, it will eventually be necessary to see how these cars work in a big city environment, and Chicago should not prematurely exclude itself from this challenge.

It cannot be ignored that Burke and Beale are also allies of taxi companies, and interests against Uber could play a part in their opposition. The two men have been known to make efforts to antagonize the company, and this could be another one of them.

To deny Chicago the opportunity to be a premiere user of this revolutionary technology is disappointing for the city. The idea that driverless cars are dangerous is irrelevant; all technology is dangerous before society understands it.

Change can be difficult to process, but instead of pushing driverless cars away, Chicago should embrace the new technology, test it safely and learn to implement it in a way that complements the rest of the city. Driverless cars are nearly here. It is time for us to sit back and take our hands off the wheel.