Why Autonomous Vehicles Matter to Low-Income Neighborhoods

When Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, outlined the companies priorities for the coming years, the driverless car remained a stand-out.

Prototypes have logged over 1 million miles in testing out what is working and what is not. Even though the co-founder admits it will be awhile till we see driverless cars on our streets, the supposed need for vehicles with these capabilities stems from the high amount of auto accidents and fatalities each year.

While the outline of a driverless car does have its advantageous in having a controlled system, if the system malfunctions or another part of the system has a bug, is it safer than our current system of transportation?

The emphasis on cars and their importance in our daily lives is a bit numbing. Instead of figuring out differing modes of transport, routes and planning should be made around people. Transportation has been a distinctly undemocratic.

Yes, nearly everyone in the US owns a car, most likely two. However, for those without a vehicle or wish to bicycle or walk to their destinations are marginalised. The installation of bike lanes was a major step in combatting car-centricity. Bikers now enjoyed their own space — however meagre — to get from Point A to Point B. How much their minuscule area of access is respected is up for debate. Watch “Bike Lanes by Casey Neistat”,where he demonstrates staying in the bike lane is not always the safest option for bikers. Ironically, he receives a ticket for aiming to stay safe; given bike lanes are usually as wide as a person’s forearm, there’s plenty of obstacles and debris within these lanes.

Bikes and cars get us from Point A to Point B. Many of us own or have access to a car to do just that. For those not unable to afford the convenience, it is incredibly unequal — to the point where it goes beyond “convenient” and becomes unjust.

For important trips to the grocery store or a health clinic, it is decidedly undemocratic. Due to poor urban planning, we’ve recognized food deserts in urban or rural neighbourhoods where there is little or no opportunity to purchase affordable or quality fresh food. Residents of those areas must make extensive journeys to find a grocery store; this is a case of anaemic community development (most often experienced in low-income neighbourhoods).

Now, this case demonstrates something essential for wide-spread autonomous vehicle acceptance: begin with the people. Trucks that bring food to such neighbourhoods will not only be bringing affordable and nutritious foods, but will be accelerating mass adoption. We’ve heard companies should make an effort to solve everyday problems, but they often overlook impoverished, urban areas to gather information.

The biggest breakthrough in integrating autonomous vehicles into our everyday may arrive when low-income neighborhoods are prioritized. The prickliest, most humdrum bugs will be quickly detected and improved. Urban spaces are complex, densely-packed areas brimming with much-needed data. If companies focus on learning from and bettering low-income communities, the benefit and assimilation of autonomous vehicles will mature from inward-bottom to outward-up.

Cities and neighbourhoods should be advocating for safe and well-constructed pathways and autonomous vehicle innovation. Autonomous driving companies should be identifying communities with low-buying power and poor public transportation as an untapped resource — and as an opportunity to give back.