Could The Self-Driving Car Ruin New York As We Know It?

The New York we know may be escaping us one cozy, autonomus ride at a time


The advent of the self-driving car is no longer a question of if, but when. The self-driving car’s benefits are both obvious and compelling. However, there may be lurking some subtle disadvantages to the new technology that we may not be able to anticipate until it starts driving down our own streets.

Shaping the New York Roads of Tomorrow

On October 28, 2016, New York held a City Council hearing to discuss preparations for self-driving cars in New York City. In this meeting an important question was asked: Will New York City become Silicon Valley’s most complex and elaborate proving ground for the new and disruptive tech or will local policy makers be able to determine how autonomous vehicles will impact the pedestrian and transit rich city?

In September, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) released its optimistic policy on self-driving cars. The policy ensured NHTSA’s commitment to reducing the 30,000 death’s that happen on America’s roads annually, of which 94% occur due to human error.

Ey, I’m Walking Here!

DOT Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Michael Replogle, urged the committee to protect New York from becoming a self-driving proving ground as that could come at the risk of costing pedestrians their lives. Replogle campaigned for speed governors to regulate how fast autonomous vehicles travel in pedestrian or cyclist dense areas.

While speed governors might protect against what could be reckless AI, there remains the question of how will self-driving cars prioritize the passenger’s safety? For instance, Inverse reports that a Mercedes company manager confirmed that their autonomous vehicle prototype, in a life or death situation, will prioritize the life of the passengers over those of pedestrians. Are we subtly ushering in terminator-like technology? Could it be said these cars are literally 'programmed' to kill (given the circumstance)? Not only does this have implications for tourism, but it could potentially have a massive impact on insurance rates in New York.


Replogle, however, may be over ambitious in his protective nature as some old New York laws, now more bureaucratic than actually relevant, may have already done the protecting for him. Currently there exists a law made in 1971 that requires drivers to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times while the vehicle is in motion.

New York has over 2 million registered automobiles and approximately 8 million residents, who have been forced to the self-driving backburner. This has given headway to cities such as Pittsburgh, Austin and Denver to continue their progression in their journey to commercialize and normalize autonomous vehicles.

During the City Council hearing Councilman Dan Garodnick tweeted, 'NYC will miss chance to lead on autonomous cars if our laws do not even allow us to test them on city streets in a safe and controlled way.'

Search Google for a Restaurant, Then Let It Take You There

The New York its residens have become familiar with has streets of yellow. Cabby culture is New York Culture. In some ways, that could all be about to change. In March 2015, Google signed an agreement with New York city Mayor, de Blasio, to replace taxis with autonomous Google Cabs. The Mayor’s office suspected that 5000 driverless cabs would be on the streets by 2016. It is currently unconfirmed whether or not any Google Cabs are currently roaming the streets of New York.

The New New York

In 2014, New York witnessed 966 fatal auto related accidents. Federal auto safety regulators have waged that the nation’s streets will be safer with AI behind the wheel as opposed to people. As the self driving technology becomes more refined, hopefully the safety and well-being of the state of New York improves with it.

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