The push for the self-driving car is on, including both gas-powered and electric (read quiet and stealthy) vehicles. I am against this movement for a number of reasons. I enjoy driving and consider it a sport. Safety becomes a major concern for the self-driving car. Also, how do people spend all that extra free time while riding around with hands free?
I currently own a Subaru WRX, 6-speed manual, AWD, 268 HP turbo-charged engine. It is tons of fun to drive, especially on curvy country roads. You don’t even have to speed to have fun. It’s just a blast driving through the curves. The great thing about this car is that with the manual transmission and AWD, the driver has a lot of control over the vehicle. There’s considerable safety in that, unless you don’t know how to drive a manual. In that case there could be death involved.
Of course, that safety factor was reduced somewhat while in Virginia driving at dusk playing “dodge the deer”. Driving briskly around corners at that time of day involved many encounters with these wild creatures. But, I’ve since moved to Florida, where the roads are mostly straight. “Dodge the alligator” is much easier; they don’t move as fast as deer.
I would be bored and frustrated out of my mind by a self-driving car. However, the WRX is the number one car in the US for getting speeding tickets, so there’s that. Apparently the air scoop on the front makes it look like it’s going fast, even when parked in the mall parking lot.
To my mind, the self-driving car introduces several safety concerns. For example, cameras that keep the car in its own lane by recognizing lane dividing lines may be useful on major roads. But, I lived in the country for much of my life. The roads there were only one or one-and-a-half lanes, with no lane lines. Under these conditions, I could see a self-driving car going off-road rather quickly. Maybe this self-driving thing should be limited to Jeeps, with special forward radar to avoid hitting trees.
The self-driving car might be able to haul you down I-95, staying in your own lane and avoiding crashing into other cars. But, what about driving in the blind spot of a tractor trailer that can get you turned into bug splat. Then there’s the giant pot holes that could potentially swallow your car whole. How is a self-driving car going to recognize and avoid those? Your best chance of survival there might be if your self-driving car maneuvers you into a giant pot hole. Then the tractor trailer drives over top of you. You’d be stuck, but not squished. Good thing I’m not an automobile engineer involved in designing these things.
It’s difficult for me to imagine how they’ll design a self-driving car to deal with dodging all the deer on the curvy Virginia roads at dusk. If the car automatically slammed on the brakes every time it recognized a deer, you’d never get to your destination. Perhaps one solution would be to design the car to look just like a large deer. Then the herds of deer might follow behind you rather than run in front of, or into your self-driving car.
Another major safety concern would be driving on snow and ice. My Subaru Outback, our other car, has an awesome AWD system. Even that is not particularly safe to drive in deep snow, and especially on ice. More dangerous is so-called black ice, where the road surface is frozen but you can’t see it. Even if you can keep your car moving with AWD, stopping and safely negotiating curves become major safety issues. I guess dragging your foot is an option, but heavy boots are advised.
I have no idea how one might design a self-driving car to negotiate these slippery conditions. Perhaps there could be a loud siren and an LED sign that appears on your touch screen that says, “JUMP OUT. YOU ARE ABOUT TO CRASH.” But, the good news is, if the car is doing the driving, the passenger should be allowed to have a few beers or a martini or two to calm the nerves and loosen you up for the impending crash.
Regarding loud warning sounds, such a device would also be useful when the self-driving car is electric. An electric car makes very little noise, so pedestrians (and deer) have no warning that they are coming. Therefore, there should be an automatic safety device in place to blast a loud sound in the direction of the pedestrian/deer/pet to warn them of impending death. This is a place where the lawyers will need to include a disclaimer for the occasional case where this safety device scares the pedestrian/deer/pet to death.
The other question that comes to mind with the self-driving car involves what people will do with all that extra free time while driving to work, the mall, picking up the kids. I spent forty years working in the pharmaceutical industry with lots of Type A personalities. My guess would be that most of them will be working on their laptops, or participating in video conferences. Think about all the extra work you could get done. Hell, you wouldn’t even have to go to the office. You could just work in your car while driving around the city, country, or wherever. This could give a whole new meaning to the word ‘telecommuting’, no office space required at the office or at home.
Then there are the young lovers, and the married people who want to step out on their spouses. In both cases you could save a lot of money by just letting your car drive you around while you climb into the back seat for some chica-wow-wow. This would save the young lovers money for a hotel room. It could also prevent their getting caught by the police while parked. And if they keep moving mom and dad might not catch them. In the case of the adulterers, there’s be no strange hotel bills on the credit card. And if you kept moving it would be harder to get caught.
For those involved in these endeavors, a self-driving van or SUV with curtains in the back might best serve your needs. The danger here is that the self-driving car will be highly hackable. The passengers might find their vehicle headed for home (in the case of the youngsters) or off a cliff (in the case of the adulterers). Perhaps the lawyers should recommend that disclaimers for these situations be included in the vehicle manuals as well.
There will be plenty of time for texting, keeping up with social media, selfies to be posted (not recommended for the adulterers), and even binge-watching Netflix, Hulu and other streaming TV venues. Hands-free politicians can sext to their heart’s content, and both men and women that are into it could spend the time watching porn (again, curtains recommended). The possibilities are endless.
If the industry develops self-driving recreational vehicles, you could live in the thing. You might travel all over the US without interrupting your daily lives with the mundane task of driving. Balconies could be built off of the back of the RV where you could sit and grill your steaks while riding down I-95 or on I-70 towards the west. You could have friends over for cards, monopoly, video games, or whatever, while their self-driving car or RV follows yours down the road. This could include wild parties while your RV self-drives you across the country. Since the vehicle is driving the DUI might become obsolete. It wouldn’t even be necessary to pay for a parking spot in an RV park. You could just keep driving around to your heart’s content, although the cost of gasoline might become an issue.
Actually, the more I write on this subject, the more I have become convinced that the self-driving car is a good idea. I think I’ll buy one, maybe even an RV. My wife and I could climb in, gas her up (or plug her in), and head west. Think of all the things we could see, and more importantly, all the times we could climb in the back and…take a nap. I have always had an easier time sleeping in the car while rolling down the road. Come on guys, hurry up and make these things a reality.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my comedy murder mystery PLEAURIA: Take as Directed, available in bookstores and on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria.
I’m donating all my after-tax profits from the book to two children’s charities, Holly’s House and Darkness-to-Light.