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EDITORIAL: Driverless cars on the road to the future

"EconTalk" host Rus Roberts was talking up driverless cars long before they were better known, writes Mona Charen. | AP file photo

This editorial could write itself.

Chicago would be silly to ban driverless cars. That’s how big cities that look to the future turn into cow towns stuck in the past.

How hard is that to figure out?

Two Chicago aldermen, Ed Burke (14th) and Anthony Beale (9th) are again pushing a ban on driverless cars in Chicago, saying the cars would be dangerous — though nobody intends to put driverless cars on the road until everybody’s confident they are safe. Common sense.


The aldermen object to a state bill, awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature, that would prohibit Chicago and other home-rule communities from banning driverless vehicles. Burke and Beale would allow the new technology only as part of a rigidly regulated city testing program. Their interest seems more in killing the idea than in safely nurturing it.

Truth be told, cars with drivers are dangerous now. People drive while drunk. People drive while texting, talking on the phone, fiddling with GPS, gesturing at the goof in the next lane or yelling at the kids in the back seat.

The real expectation is that driverless cars would be safer, better controlling for human error. NASA sent men to the Moon in driverless rockets, with computers doing the steering. That worked out pretty well.

Burke’s concern — safety — is understandable. The first time a driverless car comes easing down the street — what a sight to behold — we’ll jump back from the curb, too. But Beale’s worry, the loss of jobs, is easy to share but hard to defend.

New technology is always a threat to somebody’s job. We suppose driverless cars will, as Beale warns, lead in time to fewer Uber and bus drivers. But nobody banned Model T Fords to protect jobs for blacksmiths. Old occupations may fade, but new ones come along.

The trick is to adapt to change, not try to wish it away.

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