Column: Self-driving cars promise freedom

Robbie Diamond and James Martin

The writer Charles Dudley Warner once said, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” While Warner coined that famous phrase (adapted from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest) in 1870, a 2017 example is the push for U.S. leadership in autonomous vehicles (AVs), a cause that has drawn a broad and diverse coalition of advocates across the country.

The Coalition for Future Mobility includes more than two dozen member organizations united in their advocacy for AVs. The coalition is urging Congress to pass legislation to spur the safe testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles, so that we can reap their many benefits sooner rather than later.

We represent two of the coalition’s members — 60 Plus Association, an engaged and active group of seniors who support free enterprise, fewer taxes, and less government — and Securing America’s Future Energy (“SAFE”), a group of retired four-star military leaders and business executives who promote polices that will reduce America’s dependence on oil.

AVs unite us because of the many economic, social, and energy security benefits the technology will bring.

For seniors, self-driving vehicles will mean more independence when they no longer own cars or are less confident in their driving skills. The benefits of this technology will reach many populations, such as individuals with disabilities, who currently lack sufficient transportation access.

Ride-sharing platforms for AVs will also reduce the costs of transportation, creating more affordable mobility for these groups, and those on fixed incomes. Beyond improving quality of life, greater dynamism boosts the economy by creating opportunities for jobs, spending, and recreation.

Seniors deserve to live and thrive in dignity. AVs will create safer and more affordable transportation options for seniors, dramatically improving their quality of life.

Because autonomous vehicles will largely be deployed through on-demand ridesharing services, AVs also offer an opportunity to significantly reduce our oil dependence. Companies seeking to provide “mobility on demand” will gravitate towards electric vehicles, whose per-mile operating costs are significantly lower than conventional cars. Currently there are 264 million cars on American roads — 99 percent of which run on petroleum fuels. In addition to reducing the number of vehicles on the road, AVs will lower fuel consumption by improving vehicle efficiency through improved traffic flow and optimized routing, while improving fuel choice and undermining oil’s monopoly as a transportation fuel.

Why are electric vehicles an economic and national security imperative? U.S. reliance on oil creates economic and national security risks. As the world’s most valuable strategic commodity, wars have been fought and blood shed in the interests of stabilizing global oil supply, and the United States continues to net import 7 million barrels of crude oil every day — much of which comes from countries that do not share our interests or our values. To lessen our reliance on oil, SAFE advocates for increased fuel efficiency and diversity, including fuel options that pull from our country’s abundant, domestic and reliable energy sources like electricity and natural gas.

AVs offer additional advantages over today’s models, including the increased safety that comes from eliminating human error as a cause of roadway fatalities.

Automated driving technology is far more developed than most people realize. America must continue to lead by developing and deploying innovative technologies that improve and save lives. Congress must clear the way by approving legislation that encourages the safe and rapid testing and deployment of AVs.

Robbie Diamond is founder, president and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy and James Martin is founder and chairman of the 60 Plus Association.