Consider this thought experiment. Assume that driverless cars could certainly reduce deaths by avoiding accidents caused by people who drive while intoxicated or who simply make stupid driving decisions, like driving on the wrong side of the road. Add in the likelihood that even after they are perfected and well inspected, driverless cars would lead to special problems, perhaps if the computers don’t respond properly to some unusual situations.
To continue this experiment, imagine that the cars would save many lives over all, but lead to some bad accidents when a car malfunctions. The evening news might show a “Terminator” car spinning out of control and killing a child. There could be demands to shut down the cars until just about every problem is solved. The lives saved by the cars would not be as visible as the lives lost, and therefore the law might thwart or delay what could be a very beneficial innovation.
Furthermore, a company with deep pockets might be reluctant to take on the legal liability associated with selling driverless cars and in the meantime wouldn’t invest heavily to improve the technology…
But it’s clear that in the early part of the 20th century, the original advent of the motor car was not impeded by anything like the current mélange of regulations, laws and lawsuits. Potentially major innovations need a path forward, through the current thicket of restrictions. That debate on this issue is so quiet shows the urgency of doing something now.