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David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/9/17 12:20 p.m.

Like so many of us, my childhood was dominated by Lego. I kept mine in an old suitcase that, I almost hate to admit, I still have somewhere.

What did we build with all of those Lego bricks? Cars. Lots and lots of cars. Some sort of resembled real cars, some followed our imaginations off into the wilds.

I remember a particular car built by Michael, my next-door neighbor. Among its defining features was a horizontal board hanging off the nose. It wasn’t a wing, but rather a snooper that could read the road. This feature allowed the car’s driver to join the other occupants in the pool–because, seriously, what Lego dream car doesn’t have an onboard swimming pool?

That amazing future is here now. Tesla Autopilot, despite that news-making fatal wreck, has delivered thousands of safe miles. We recently sampled a new Cadillac SUV that would steer back into the lane when we veered it too close to the boundaries. This week we’re driving a Subaru fitted with radar cruise control, something that once seemed sci-fi yet is now rather commonplace.

More useful technology: My home sprinklers talk to the cloud and only operate when needed. I’ll probably pull the trigger on a Nest home automation system soon, too.

It’s not about having the latest gadget. I think about it like this: Why should I waste my time and brainpower on those mundane chores, especially when in the long run I can save some electricity, too? I’m going to let computers handle those functions so I can do more fun stuff.

The big question, of course, is how much control are we each willing to give up when it comes to driving?

I recently made two back-to-back trips across Florida, meaning plenty of time on 1–4 while surrounded by both locals and tourists. My M.O. is simple: I get in the middle or right lane, pick a comfortable speed, and gobble up the miles. I don’t need to constantly speed up and slow down in a futile effort to pass every other car on the road. My goal: Arrive alive and not stressed out.

From my comfortable spot I can also watch the flow of traffic, and there’s one pattern that we have all seen: Someone in the left lane holds up the faster drivers, leading them to pass on the right. Most people don’t expect to be passed on the right–or they’re just that oblivious to everything–so this sometimes results in a bit of chaos.

On one of my trips I watched a bus attempt to pass a slower car on the right. And partway through the maneuver, the car being passed decided to merge to the right–smack dab into the real estate currently occupied by the bus.

But wait, that’s not all: While the bus was passing that car on the right, another driver was passing the bus on the right.

So from my front-row seat, I watched this whole cluster play out in real time. Like three drunks, first they swerved one way and then in near unison they swerved the other. Fortunately after this dance–and more than a few gasps–everyone regained their positions and we all miraculously continued west toward Tampa with zero paint trading.

I don’t think we can make the modern driver any smarter, especially with all of the distractions we now face. You can blame smartphones, Pokémon or whatever, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the meatbag behind the wheel.

Perhaps it is time to make our cars smarter.

We have discussed autonomous cars on our message board, and Flyin’ Miata’s Keith Tanner posted a logical analogy: “Riding horses used to be something you had to do to get around. The car took them out of the equation, so horse riding became recreational with dedicated riding areas. You no longer had to ride a horse when you didn’t want to. It became something you did because you wanted to.”

So maybe that’s our future. Those of us who enjoy driving cars will get to do so away from those who don’t–and away from those who view the driver’s seat as a place for personal grooming, cell phone calls and Facebooking.

Of course, there is Skynet, the futuristic all-knowing computer system from the “Terminator” series: “Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.”

Which future is the correct one? Personally, I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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Driven5
Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 12:38 p.m.

Except for a dip during WWII, between 30,000 and 55,000 people have died on the road each and every year since ~1930.

As much as I hate to say it: If widespread implementation of autonomous driving cars can decrease that by an order of magnitude, which I believe it can, then there is absolutely no question in my mind about what should ultimately happen.

Bobzilla
Bobzilla UltimaDork
5/9/17 12:42 p.m.

I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

smokindav
smokindav Reader
5/9/17 12:50 p.m.

It needs to make speeds of 120mph+ a normal thing. Imagine being able to drive 1,000 miles in 5 hours overnight while sleeping. That is the big pay off for me.

Driven5
Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 1:01 p.m.
Bobzilla wrote: I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

"Breeding the lowest common denominator" and "the consequences of poor decision making" in regards to driving fatalities are NOT one and the same...Or would you like to share those sentiments as your 'condolences' to the all of the families grieving the loss of loved ones as the result of drivers in other cars having made poor decisions?

Bobzilla
Bobzilla UltimaDork
5/9/17 1:05 p.m.
Driven5 wrote:
Bobzilla wrote: I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

"Breeding the lowest common denominator" and "the consequences of poor decision making" in regards to driving fatalities are NOT one and the same...Or would you like to share those sentiments as your 'condolences' to the families grieving the loss of loved ones as the result of drivers in other cars having made poor decisions?

Sorry, your outrage is unmoving. I'm a firm believer in removing all nanny devices and bringing back natural selection. But then again, the "think of the children" argument has been beaten to death to the point that many of us no longer hear it.

Your argument assumes that all driving fatalities are the result of someone else's poor decisions. That is completely false. The opposite is not true either. So let's leave silly strawmen to guard the tomatoes.

Toebra
Toebra HalfDork
5/9/17 1:07 p.m.

I have driven literally hundreds of thousands of miles and never had a wreck where I was at fault. If what is stated above is true, that the number of deaths has remained between 30,000 and 55,000, then the number of deaths per mile has fallen quite a bit, which is a more informative metric than the total number without considering miles driven. The "logical analogy" cited in the original post is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. I would say it is more the opposite. The advent of cars becoming common place increased individual autonomy, the advent of self driving cars is more likely to lead to reduced autonomy, as the passenger at the steering wheel will be limited by whatever the software designer had in mind when setting up the car.

Robbie
Robbie UberDork
5/9/17 1:19 p.m.
Bobzilla wrote: I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

So, you are in favor of walking everywhere, not going to the doctor, avoiding vaccines, farming your own food, etc?

Shaun
Shaun HalfDork
5/9/17 1:23 p.m.

The 'self driving' or 'auto pilot' status we are in now in is a looser as it 'self driving' and 'autopiolot' go out the window boosted by a contractual legal jet pack once someone gets hurt then it is the drivers fault (or contractors fault in the case of Uber). I applaud Ford throwing down and road-mapping getting rid of the steering wheel and really making it auto pilot. Yes, it is wholly terrible. But it is necessary as people are not paying attention and that is not going to change. As to natural selection? The more people that say alive, the sooner we wipe ourselves off of the planet. Good Riddance.

JimS
JimS New Reader
5/9/17 1:23 p.m.

You don't want to drive. Take a bus.

Driven5
Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 1:26 p.m.
Bobzilla wrote:
Driven5 wrote:
Bobzilla wrote: I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

"Breeding the lowest common denominator" and "the consequences of poor decision making" in regards to driving fatalities are NOT one and the same...Or would you like to share those sentiments as your 'condolences' to the families grieving the loss of loved ones as the result of drivers in other cars having made poor decisions?

Sorry, your outrage is unmoving. I'm a firm believer in removing all nanny devices and bringing back natural selection. But then again, the "think of the children" argument has been beaten to death to the point that many of us no longer hear it.

Your argument assumes that all driving fatalities are the result of someone else's poor decisions. That is completely false. The opposite is not true either. So let's leave silly strawmen to guard the tomatoes.

Your comments directly imply that a person who makes a poor decision is inherently one of the least common denominator, that a person who makes a bad decision is inherently the one who suffers the worst of the consequences, and now that people who die in any given unintentional incident are are inherently the weak link rather than the fittest in the course of natural selection.

Call it what you will, but I have no idea how simply pointing out the completely illogical and irrational nature of your statements, and providing one all-too-common example that illustrates the weakness in your arguments, is somehow "outrage".

If you'd like to leave silly strawmen to guard the tomatoes...You are more than welcome to start doing so at any time.

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
5/9/17 1:26 p.m.
Bobzilla wrote:
Driven5 wrote:
Bobzilla wrote: I'm getting tired of breeding the lowest common denominator. Great. One more thing to take away the consequences of poor decision making.

"Breeding the lowest common denominator" and "the consequences of poor decision making" in regards to driving fatalities are NOT one and the same...Or would you like to share those sentiments as your 'condolences' to the families grieving the loss of loved ones as the result of drivers in other cars having made poor decisions?

Sorry, your outrage is unmoving. I'm a firm believer in removing all nanny devices and bringing back natural selection. But then again, the "think of the children" argument has been beaten to death to the point that many of us no longer hear it.

Your argument assumes that all driving fatalities are the result of someone else's poor decisions. That is completely false. The opposite is not true either. So let's leave silly strawmen to guard the tomatoes.

But that BS line is getting really, really old.

Just as it is to pretend that life will get better if we remove driving aids.

If you want to drive that way great. But why pretend that having others be that way makes it any better?

While David suggests that modern cars and driving is leading to more distraction- this isn't a new problem. Distractions have been around since the dawn of accidents (which pre-dates cars by millennia). Even IF you got rid of phones, radios, and got your car back to the driving basics, the odds of you being distracted at one time or another is still 100%. Whether that turns into an accident is a different story.

Also, the "lowest common denominator" is total crap, too. Even the highest common denominator person makes mistakes.

But then the idea of just thinning the herd for the sake of thinning it is, well, disturbing.

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
5/9/17 1:29 p.m.
JimS wrote: You don't want to drive. Take a bus.

Which is great IF there is a bus to take.

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
5/9/17 1:40 p.m.

Certainly no buses in my area, or any of the 600 mile radius I generally cover.

I drive 60-70,000 miles per year. Damn right I'd be happy to have a machine do it for me!

Driven5
Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 1:41 p.m.
Toebra wrote: I have driven literally hundreds of thousands of miles and never had a wreck where I was at fault. If what is stated above is true, that the number of deaths has remained between 30,000 and 55,000, then the number of deaths per mile has fallen quite a bit, which is a more informative metric than the total number without considering miles driven.

Yes, miles driven has gone up considerably, and subsequently deaths per mile driven have gone down considerably...But consider how much of that has been due to government mandated "nanny devices" like seatbelts and crumple zones that allow us to walk away from what are now considered minor collisions, but would have more than likely killed us years ago.

Also, in my humble opinion, total deaths regardless of miles driven is still a completely valid measurement when you start talking about being able to reducing it from tens of thousands to thousands, or maybe even hundreds.

Tyler H
Tyler H UltraDork
5/9/17 1:50 p.m.

Let's skip the transportation altogether. Put the kids in the tube and plug their brains right into Facebook. Let self-driving UPS and Fedex trucks and Amazon Prime feed them.

But really-- I agree that it's coming. It will be one of the greatest changes in the standard (not necessarily quality) of life that we will live to see. It will lead to whole new lifeways, and it's the only way to cope with the population pressure in urban centers.

Imagine a world where cars not only accelerate at the end of onramps, but embrace a complete lack of turn-signalling.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/9/17 1:52 p.m.

The day they outlaw operating a car by yourself is the day I leave this country. I have no desire to own a car that drives itself, and I have no desire to live in a country that won't allow me to operate an automobile without a computer deciding my every move.

For the non-enthusiast masses, it's no doubt safer. However, I don't live my life looking for the "safest" way to do everything---- actually it's quite the opposite. I frequently seek out danger as it keeps me vibrant and alive. I'd rather live in a dangerous world, than be isolated in a perfectly safe "cocoon" while my soul dies.

Get off my Lawn!

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
5/9/17 1:57 p.m.
Joe Gearin wrote: The day they outlaw operating a car by yourself is the day I leave this country. I have no desire to own a car that drives itself, and I have no desire to live in a country that won't allow me to operate an automobile without a computer deciding my every move. For the non-enthusiast masses, it's no doubt safer. However, I don't live my life looking for the "safest" way to do everything---- actually it's quite the opposite. I frequently seek out danger as it keeps me vibrant and alive. I'd rather live in a dangerous world, than be isolated in a perfectly safe "cocoon" while my soul dies. Get off my Lawn!

That's great and all.

But, once again, Enthusiests over estimate how many people out there actually like driving. Most of them do it because they have to. Just like 150 years ago, people had to ride horses. Some liked it, some did it because there wasn't a realistic alternative.

There are a lot of different elements to a engaged lifestyle. Some being dangerous, some being technical, some being personal. From a global standpoint, one isn't really more than another.

We car people need to deal with it.

People need to transport themselves to do stuff. And 99% of those times isn't fun.

Trans_Maro
Trans_Maro PowerDork
5/9/17 2:05 p.m.

As long as there is no self-riding motorcycle...

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/9/17 2:06 p.m.

Alfadriver---- To each his own. The masses are welcome to embrace autonomous living in whatever aspect they like---- just as I am welcome to live without those aids. I won't begrudge those who would rather let a computer take control.....that's just not me.

I love to drive-- even in mundane situations. It's one of the things I enjoy the most about being an adult. I can imagine a time in the near future when they take "meatbag driven" cars off the road, or restrict their use--- for safety's sake. I'd rather not live in that society.

If I was a horse enthusiast 150 years ago, I probably would've moved out to the country, instead of dealing with the auto's takeover. If technology does the same with cars---- I'll just move somewhere where "human driven" cars are still allowed. I'm sure these places will still exist for the rest of my lifetime.

wae
wae Dork
5/9/17 2:13 p.m.

In reply to Joe Gearin:

I'd say that I'd like to receive your newsletter, but I guess I already do! I've always said that a self-driving car would be like paying someone to drink my beer for me.

A self driving RV, though, might convince me...

Driven5
Driven5 Dork
5/9/17 2:14 p.m.

Another huge benefit to mass implementation of self driving cars, is the potential for significantly reducing traffic congestion and travel times in more urban areas. And I think that's really where the line would get drawn. In more urban areas, there may be restrictions on driving your own car within the next few decades. But I don't believe that can, will, or should be able to extend to more rural areas for considerably longer after that.

And when driving your own car in urban areas does inevitably go the way of the horse...You'll probably be able to find me operating an automotive 'dude-ranch' somewhere, so that city-folk can come out and experience what it was like to drive your own cars back in the day.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/9/17 2:29 p.m.
Driven5 wrote: Another huge benefit to mass implementation of self driving cars, is the potential for significantly reducing traffic congestion and travel times in more urban areas. And I think that's really where the line would get drawn. In more urban areas, there may be restrictions on driving your own car within the next few decades. But I don't believe that can or will be able to extend to more rural areas for considerably longer after that.

If they plan it properly (a big "if") I can see the possibility of reduced congestion through better traffic flow. In other conditions, where traffic isn't dense, it will likely take quite a bit more time to reach your destination---- unless they allow higher speed limits for autonomous cars than they do for human driven ones.

Keep in mind, an autonomous vehicle will travel at the speed limit......but not over. In today's travel nearly every driver is speeding 5-10mph over the limit. Some are going much, much faster than that. I can't see the insurance companies allowing autonomous cars to speed.

"Hal, I'd like to make some time and go 65 in this 55mph zone"

"Steve....I'm sorry, I can't allow that---- it's for your own safety"

"Dammit Hal, I'm late for my wedding, I need to get there quickly"

"Steve.....I'm sensing hostility.....perhaps you should sleep" (chemical fog enters car cabin....putting Steve to sleep)

ztnedman1
ztnedman1 New Reader
5/9/17 2:31 p.m.
Driven5 wrote: Another huge benefit to mass implementation of self driving cars, is the potential for significantly reducing traffic congestion, travel times, and subsequently energy usage, in more urban areas.

But it won't... For the same reasons floods occur.

It may slightly reduce, assuming no glitches or errors occur, but the congestion and rush hour traffic will never go away, especially when you keep 1 person per 60sq ft.

RevRico
RevRico SuperDork
5/9/17 2:39 p.m.

And the whole terrible conditions of the roads and bridges negating any possible increases in speeds from the autonomous vehicles.

Sure if every vehicle on the road is synced up they could travel at great speed safely. Except potholes, grading changes, the bridges that are falling apart all over the place, couldn't handle such an increased load and would probably make things more hazardous.

The long and short of it, from my perspective, is that mass implementation couldn't happen or wouldn't benefit as much without an equally massive infrastructure upgrade.

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