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Justice

Driverless Cars Won’t Save Us

In fact, they’ll do the opposite of what techno-optimists hope, and worsen—not ease—inequality.
An autonomous vehicle drives on a race track in California.
An autonomous vehicle drives on a race track in California.Stephen Lam/Reuters

For a growing chorus of techno-optimists and even urbanists, driverless cars are the solution to everything from traffic congestion to high housing prices. By providing an easy, flexible, hands-free commute, during which people can watch videos, talk, or get work done, they will stretch the current boundaries of our crowded metro areas, and enable more and more people, especially the affluent and the advantaged, to live in far-off suburbs and exurbs.

To this way of thinking, driverless cars are the most recent in a long line of technologies—from the horse-drawn carriage and the streetcar to subways, trains, and the automobile itself—that have allowed us to escape the clutches of geography and the constraints of distance.