ASU professor: Driverless vehicles will have unintended consequences for government


Heather Beshears

Google revealed its first self-driving car at the company’s California headquarters earlier this year. Autonomous vehicles are expected to become the prevailing mode of transportation by 2035. But driverless cars may have unforeseen negative effects for the cash flow of local governments, argues ASU’s Kevin Desouza in an article on Slate’s Future Tense blog.

"At the moment, governments make an awful lot of money off of dumb human decisions. How will your city council make up for the lost cash flow?” asks Desouza.

Desouza, associate dean for research and professor at the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, explains that while better road safety, decreased congestion, and lower environmental impacts are overall good things, autonomous cars pose surprising challenges to local governments and communities. Once driverless cars become mainstream, revenue sources acquired from human error and driving-related violations will dry up.

Los Angeles generated $161 million from parking violations in 2014 alone. That revenue funded by poor driving-related behaviors funds transportation infrastructure, public schooling, judicial salaries, domestic violence advocacy, conservation, and many others,” Desouza writes.

Future governments must be prepared to evolve into responsive and adaptive organizations as technological advancements pose challenges to the public sector, as Desouza discusses with colleagues in a recent report from the Brookings Institution. Tesla CEO Elon Musk predicted at NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference in March that the superior safety record of driverless vehicles would demand the banning of non driverless vehicles on public roadways.

Desouza urges the deliberate collaboration between local governments and policymakers to chart out trends based on data, model the interactions within complex systems, and study the pathways towards outcomes to unearth intended and unintended consequences of strategic choices.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.