Opinion: Driving toward the future

Autonomous vehicles promise to bring revolutionary change to U.S. roads. The time is now to start preparing for that new world.

As fans of old science fiction know, humankind has a less-than-stellar record at pinpointing what tomorrow holds. Yet Shakespeare had it right, too: “What’s past is prologue.” The leap of wristwatch phones from comic strips to reality proves that.

Which makes pondering the future of transportation intriguing — and risky. Many times, people — and governments — come down hard in one camp or another: roads vs. transit, for example, even given the likelihood that both will still be needed.

The future is certain to toss new wrinkles into this old argument. The role down the road of autonomous (aka self-driving) vehicles has yet to be fleshed out fully, but it promises to be significant, and then dominant, in that order. The big unknown is just how rapidly this transition will occur. As a reminder, it didn’t take long for automobiles to put horses out to transportation pasture.

Preparing our infrastructure for an increasingly driverless future may well take longer than it takes for autonomous vehicles to crowd the roads. Those focused on the future, including today’s writers, are right to say that the prep work for that should begin now.