The Safety Dance

It is a cynical but savvy move for AV companies to focus on safety as their core lobbying pitch, instead of on other options like convenience or access for those unable to drive. Unlike more realistic road-safety strategies like slowing down urban traffic, self-driving technology does not threaten the primacy of the automobile in American life, which many public officials are wary of challenging. In fact, overhyping the safety benefits of self-driving cars allows the auto industry to concurrently fulfill two key objectives: It positions car companies as a solution to a American safety crisis they themselves helped create, and it serves as a distraction from proven tactics (like road diets or transit expansions) that make their cars and tech less useful in urban areas. And they have little to lose by exaggerating AV benefits; past promises of car-dominated utopias have repeatedly come to naught without inspiring a regulatory smackdown or popular backlash.