The Dark Side of Electric and Self-Driving Vehicles

There’s no doubt about it: Electric and self-driving vehicles are the future. However, it’s possible that politicians and policymakers are moving too fast. And, in doing so, they may actually be putting the public in more danger.

California, U.S. Government Take Major Steps to Ban Gas-Fueled Vehicles

In a recent vote praised by the left and mocked by the right, California state regulators reached an agreement to ban the sale of new gasoline-fueled cars by the year 2035. The decision is a significant one, as the state is the largest auto market in the country and could influence regulators in other states to follow their lead.

“Seventeen states comprising about 40 percent of national car sales already follow California's vehicle emission standards,” Amna Nawaz reports for “Experts say most will likely apply the new mandate once it's approved. At least three of those states have so-called trigger laws in place, automatically matching California's standards.”

The decision to implement a future ban on vehicles with internal combustion engines has been in discussion for quite some time. Embattled California governor Gavin Newsom first issued an executive order that included the 2035 target back in 2020. But the August vote was the first indicator that it may actually come to fruition.

In addition to the 2035 ban, there are several short-term targets in place. For example, 35 percent of all vehicles produced must be hybrid or fully battery powered by 2026 (and 68 percent by 2030). Auto manufacturers who fail to meet these targets will be required to buy credits from other manufacturers who have.

California isn’t alone in its move to ban gas-powered vehicles. In December 2021, the U.S. government also announced its intentions to move in a new direction.

According to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden, the U.S. government will end purchases of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 in an effort to lower emissions and promote the manufacturing of electric cars.

Currently, the government owns a fleet of more than 650,000 vehicles and purchases an estimated 50,000 annually. They represent one of the largest buyers of vehicles for U.S. auto manufacturers.

As part of the executive order, federal government operations are hopeful to reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030. The government will also seek to consume electricity only from carbon-free and non-polluting sources by 2030. The ultimate goal is net-zero emissions by 2050.

According to Reuters, “Biden has resisted calls to endorse California's plan to end the sale of new light-duty gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Biden wants Congress to approve up to $12,500 in tax credits for electric vehicle purchases, including $4,500 for buyers of union-made EVs, but that faces resistance from foreign automakers.”

The next 12 months will be telling in regards to how many other states and groups follow the lead of California and the U.S. government. By the looks of it, that number will be relatively high. Which ultimately begs the question, what are the non-environmental implications of decisions such as these?

The Shadow Side of Electric and Self-Driving Vehicles

Nobody can argue the benefits of electric vehicles. What’s less clear is how this transition will impact things like driver safety, insurance, and lawsuits. More specifically, what happens when you combine electric vehicles with driverless technology (which is the ultimate goal of liberal regulators and policymakers)?

“Despite claims to the contrary, self-driving cars currently have a higher rate of accidents than human-driven cars, but the injuries are less severe,” The National Law Review explains. “On average, there are 9.1 self-driving car accidents per million miles driven, while the same rate is 4.1 crashes per million miles for regular vehicles.”

Not only are driverless vehicles more likely to be involved in an accident, but the legal implications are complex and challenging.

“As crazy as it sounds, traffic accident victims now need to figure out who was driving the car that hit them,” Maison Law explains. “A computer or a human? They must also consider who should help out with car repairs and injury recovery costs. The car’s owner or the driverless car manufacturer?”

Questions like these are increasingly becoming a part of the conversation around driverless vehicles (which are becoming more and more popular with the electric vehicle regulatory actions).

Other safety challenges of electric and driverless vehicles include electrocution dangers. CNN has reported on a study conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers that expressed serious concerns for first responders to EV accidents, including paramedics and towing operators. The risk of electrical shock from potentially damaged electrical systems in a crash is a serious issue.

Bicyclists and pedestrians are other groups at risk. Unlike vehicles with traditional combustion engines, electric vehicles are extremely quiet (almost silent) in their operation. This makes them less likely to be heard by people who are walking, biking, and/or are visually impaired. The result is a 20 percent greater likelihood of pedestrian-related collisions.

Then there’s the increased fire risk -- something that’s received a ton of criticism over the years and continues to be a concern for those who are critical of electric vehicles. All you have to do is read about this crash involving a Tesla in Indiana to understand some of the risks that are in play with electric vehicle batteries.

The Future of Driving in America

As the United States moves closer and closer toward electric and driverless vehicles, there are valid concerns about the safety and practicality of such a transition. While the benefits are clear, do the safety concerns invalidate them?

At the end of the day, the aim is safety. Safety of the planet and safety of individuals are one and the same. To improve one at the expense of the other seems quite risky. Time will tell which choices are smart and which ones are short-sighted.

Image: FEMA

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