When I saw a self-driving car for the first time, I was thrilled. I was working on homework outside AJ’s Fine Foods in Chandler when I saw the Waymo van drive through the parking lot. The whole thing seemed incredibly futuristic – we may not have flying cars, but driverless cars seem to be an exciting step in that direction.
But not everyone in Phoenix is as happy to see these vehicles as I was. More than 20 attacks have been reported against the driverless vehicles, according to a mid-December report by the Arizona Republic, and the New York Times ushered the story into the national spotlight on Dec. 31. Critics of self-driving vehicles have been taking drastic measures to express their displeasure, like trying to force the Waymo vans off the road or threatening their drivers. “There are other places they can test,” said one alleged vigilante. “They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake,” argued another.
Of course, autonomous vehicles aren’t perfect. But they are undeniably safer than human-operated cars – Google’s driverless vehicles, for instance, have been safer since 2012. Computers can’t get drunk, tired, angry, or distracted. People do, which is why 94 percent of car accidents are caused by human error, according to an analysis of accidents between 2005 and 2007 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Consider the countless warnings espoused by parents and friends on New Year’s Eve: “Don’t drink and drive!” Drunk driving kills 36 people each day on average in the United States, but on New Year’s Eve that number increases to 54. Autonomous vehicles could make next year’s holiday a little less perilous for travelers.
But rather than celebrate the bright future self-driving cars could bring to travel, some Arizonans have chosen the path of the Luddites—English textile workers who broke into factories years ago, destroying the automated looms they feared would replace them. By throwing rocks at Waymo vehicles and slashing their tires, we’ve become even more foolish than the Luddites. The technology they feared then was a key element of the Industrial Revolution and a step toward English prosperity. The technology we attack today may bring prosperity to the United States, when we finally direct the hours currently spent behind the wheel to more interesting and productive ventures. More importantly, the technology Arizonans are attacking could virtually eliminate the tragedy of fatal car accidents.
With our notoriously good weather and wide roads, Arizona is the perfect spot to test this life-saving technology. Gov. Doug Ducey has struck a balance between innovation and safety in crafting the state’s regulatory environment for autonomous vehicles. And Waymo is confident that its technology is advanced enough to avoid accidents like the one that occurred in March 2018, when an autonomous Uber fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe.
Arizona’s openness to innovation and new technologies could shape us into the next Silicon Valley. According to Ducey, 49 companies have moved from California to Arizona since 2015, bringing 18 thousand jobs and $9 billion in capital with them. But our attacks on Waymo vehicles, not our forward-looking regulatory policy, have garnered national attention, making us seem almost barbaric – fighting technological change tooth and nail. Rather than fight against a developing technology for growing in our backyard, we should fight for it, setting an example for the rest of the nation and moving us one step closer to perfecting this life-saving technology.
Amelia Irvine is a Phoenix native and Young Voices contributor studying economics and government at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter: @ameliairvine3.