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Sabotaging Waymo and Cruise in San Francisco is really dumb -  here’s why

Given the terrible dangers of self driving cars, from the likes of Waymo and GM Cruise, the good people of San Francisco are fighting back - putting cones on Waymo and Cruise cars to disable them. Meanwhile, the authorities have woken up to the appalling risks of a Silicon Valley fantasy no one wants and are looking to shut down Waymo and Cruise in the city. That at least is the media narrative. But is it true?

Type the words ‘self driving car’ into Google any time and what you’ll see is an avalanche of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. I know this because I do it every day and have done for years. I’ve obsessively followed progress in self driving because I see huge potential benefits – freeing up time, wealth and real estate, lowering the costs of private transport, but most importantly radically reducing the death toll on our roads.

And the truth is plain. Since Waymo launched their trial service in Chandler five years ago, fully self driving cars have killed no one (though a Waymo did sadly kill a dog that ran under the wheels in San Francisco recently). Meanwhile, human drivers have killed perhaps 6 million other humans worldwide (and countless dogs too). The statistics from Waymo and Cruise (and, yes, even Tesla’s FSD) is that self driving cars are indeed safer. So why the FUD, the cones, the media hate?

Three reasons:

1)    Self driving cars will disrupt powerful vested interests - car manufacturers and dealers, insurance, parking, gas stations and more

2)    Enthusiasts of cars and driving know it will kill their hobby once it becomes clear that robot drivers are overwhelmingly safer

3)    Self driving has been dragged into the culture wars. Robo-taxis will disrupt transit because they will be safer, more private and more convenient. But to most socialists, diesel bus good, electric robotaxi totally bad

These vested interest groups are using FUD in the form of media hit pieces to convince individuals and authorities that self driving is dangerous, even though the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary. It’s working. As I wrote years ago, I suspect it will succeed in killing self driving in the west. But China.

You see, China is completely different. The ruthlessly rationalist Chinese state sees the giant benefits of self driving, especially the economic ones, and wants them now. Chinese companies are behind in self driving, but not for long, as companies like Baidu roll out their own services, encouraged (even sponsored) by the state and unlikely to be stalled by the death of a dog or a blocked intersection.

In just a few years, Chinese cities will become cleaner and safer. Car parks and gas stations will turn into shops and housing. People with disabilities will be free to move around like everyone else. Women can hail a late-night cab without fear. Travel costs will drop dramatically. Hospital beds will be freed up as traffic accident numbers drop towards zero. A child will be able to step into the road and not be immediately killed. What transit remains will be cheaper and more reliable now it has competition. Chinese cities will be better places to live.

The upshot is that we in the west will get self driving in the end, even in San Francisco, once the benefits are too obvious to ignore. The disruption will still happen. Yes, transit will be affected. No, road racing will no longer be a thing. But overall we’ll be better off, financially and socially. All’s well that ends well, then? Really not.

The problem for the west is that the huge revenues from this revolution will go to China. This will be profoundly negative for western economies. We will suffer the disruptions, but not benefit from the revenue, wealth creation and jobs. As with electric vehicles, those modern Luddites putting cones on Waymos will only succeed in handing a giant economic victory to China.