We Drive Our Own
Self-driving cars bring out our inner wingnut.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: August 28th, 2012
ou can take my steering wheel from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Apologies to the late Charlton Heston and the NRA for that paraphrase, but with all this talk about the self-driving car, I've finally found the issue that might drive me to a shack in Montana.
I'm far from a Luddite, and I generally embrace change that can better society. But like Car And Driver's Aaron Robinson, I don't want to surrender control of my car to Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or any other oddly-named search-engine giant anytime soon.
Contradictorily, we're a lazy species that also believes in being efficient by multi-tasking.
Like my colleague down the road in Ann Arbor, I admit that supporters of the self-drivers have some good points. Car crashes would likely be reduced and roadways would likely become more efficient. But to some of us—hopefully many of us—that idea doesn't represent utopia.
It's true that there are times I wouldn't mind conceding the wheel. I'd love to let the car takeover while in traffic. I could work, or nap, or just fiddle with Words with Friends. And maybe allowing self-driving cars to take over for fatigued drivers would increase road safety (I don't think self-driving cars should take over for drunks, though, because no inebriated person should be that close to the wheel. Best to let the sloshed stay far away from any moving vehicle they could theoretically control).
Maybe the majority doesn't share my opinion. Maybe most folks don't care about steering feel or stick shifts or the joy of clipping an apex on a tightly wound road. Most of us have been numbed down by appliance mobiles and annoying commutes. We've been weaned on smartphones and tablets and automatic transmissions—technology that cuts down on a lot of work in our daily lives. The less work we have to do while driving, the more time we have for whatever we want to do.
That makes sense on some level. I get the appeal of self-driving cars. Contradictorily, we're a lazy species that also believes in being efficient by multi-tasking. So if we can lounge with our laptops and write our TPS reports while sitting in traffic, so much the better, or so the thinking goes.
For me, however, the task of driving serves not just as something that can deliver joy (at least with the right car and the right road), but also as a welcome distraction from modern life. My commute can be soul-sucking at times, but twice a day I have an excuse to ignore text messages and e-mail. Twice a day I can think about what's going on in my life without interruption. It's not all bad.
Sure, I could still self-reflect and blast tunes and choose to ignore my phone if the car was doing the work for me. But why would I want to? So many parts of our lives are automated now. It's nice to control something once in a while. Computers and smartphones don't offer the same amount of control that piloting a two-ton box of steel does.
Robinson rightly warns of Big Brother intrusions and possible safety failures of self-driving cars, and while I tend to agree, I won't toss my tinfoil hat on just yet. Especially since the necessary infrastructure for self-driving cars isn't there yet.
Still, beyond the sheer joy of driving, that's another reason to be concerned. Yes, most commercial airplanes fly on auto-pilot most of the time, with little to be concerned about. But if the autopilot malfunctions, a professional pilot steps in. Today's drivers can't be bothered to stop texting while driving in non-self-driving cars. Can the youth of the future be bothered to set down the smartphone for 10 seconds should a car's computer crash begin leading to an actual car crash?
A self-driving car that can navigate public roads is a wonderful piece of technology. And maybe if I could pick and choose when the car is in control, I might be reluctantly persuaded to let it take the wheel once in a while. But I'd rather control my own automotive destiny.
Anyone who says otherwise either has way too much work to do and/or a really nasty commute. Let's get these people to a track, stat. The self-driving car won't look so good after a few hot laps.
Sure, the self-driver will probably get you from point A to point B in one piece. But if life is about the journey and not the destination, shouldn't we at least enjoy it?