Writer’s Block: Driverless cars in the future?

I heard on the radio recently that in the next 40 years cars will run on their own. People won’t have to steer.

Elyse Kaner
Elyse Kaner

It’s actually happening now as companies such as Google have already developed and continue to work on their version of a self-driving car.

This idea of cars controlled by artificial-intelligence, of course, brings many questions to mind.

In an ideal world I picture this as meaning no more deaths from car crashes. People wouldn’t get killed dashing across highways without pedestrian bridges. We would no longer have to worry about the kid on your tail texting and phoning up his friends.

Yes, check it out. There’s an epidemic of phone yakkers out there, yapping away while they’re tooling down streets or taking turns off and on freeway ramps at speeds of 40 to 50 mph. And that’s not just the teens. Adults are just as guilty.

Driving defensively isn’t just carefully approaching an unmarked intersection anymore and looking both ways or second-guessing the other driver. Lately, it’s more like a game of dodge ball, hoping you won’t get hit and called out of the game of life.

Whatever happened to the days of both hands on the steering wheel at all times while driving? When did talking to a friend take precedence over saving a life? I’m thinking they should take those twisted wrecks displayed mainly in the spring at prom time and hoist them high throughout the year where everyone can see them on a main thoroughfare as a reminder to SLOW DOWN, think and focus on your driving. Many drivers get behind the wheel and forget they’re operating a 4,000-pound piece of machinery.

As an aside, I once took a driving course at a company that left me with an invaluable driving tip. Always leave a cushion of space between all vehicles and your moving car. The video encircled a car in motion, showing the cushion, a verboten space for other objects or vehicles. If a car pulls up beside you, for example, slow down or speed up to adjust for a comfortable and safe distance. I keep this in mind as I flee in horror from car-driving texters and talkers. Forgive my ranting. During my years of driving, I’ve been rear-ended by two teens not paying attention. Oddly enough, both were girls. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

With winter approaching, I shudder to think of a combination of slippery roads, texting and talking while driving, literally giving new meaning to the term triple threat.

But back to cars that drive on their own. More questions. Could a lower accident rate translate into lower insurance rates? Will there be a need for car insurance? A website I accessed said driver’s licenses will be a thing of the past.

And how will the cars of the future be powered? We know electric cars and hybrids are out there. But could gas stations become passé? No more rogue thieves running off without paying at the pump. No more legislation over prepaid gas at service stations. Still, the brouhaha earlier this year over prepaid gas seems to be paying off in Coon Rapids. Since the gas prepay ordinance went into effect Aug. 1, there have been no drive-offs.

And what about our carbon footprint? Would self-powered cars lower the footprint? Would they slow the increasing loss of the rapidly melting Antarctic ice sheet? Would it help our threatened species, most notably, our friends in the Arctic Circle, the polar bears?

Would it mean no more speeding tickets? Traffic tie-ups? Road rage? Wackos venting their anger as they pull guns and shoot unsuspecting victims driving on our highways.

Yes, folks, we’re in for a big change in moving the masses. Cars are already easing themselves into parking spots, via computer.

Will I see autonomous cars in my lifetime as a partial solution to mass transit, not to mention global warming? Probably not. But it’s nice to know that someone out there is working on it.

  • Mat

    Interesting article.

    First, despite your nostalgia about the good old days, you are far less likely to die on the roads than ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

    Second, despite all this, road deaths are still unacceptably high at a tick over 30,000 a year.

    Driverless cars will almost definitely reduce deaths by 90%+ and as you rightly observed, will reduce premiums too. They will quite possibly end private car ownership for most – especially those in cities – turning ownershipinto a luxury as opposed to a necessity.

    Regardless of how it plays out, it’s an exciting future ahead and according to Google, one that’s approaching rapidly. One of the cofounders of Google predicts that they will have commercialized their product within 5 years.

  • Tony Alvarado

    Google’s driverless car program is great! But two is always better than one, so why not introduce coexisting technologies such as BiModal technologies, which can incorporate the driverless transportation needs for personal use but public and commercial transportation as well.

  • George R

    I think that even more likely than driverless cares will be car-less (not careless) drivers. By that I mean that we could all save money if we paid a fee and just had a fleet of cars that were available only when we needed them. Why fill garages and parking spaces that are not used 23 of 24 hours a day? Why should one person absorb all the depreciation and insurance costs for cars that just sit most of the time?

    Of course the inside would have to be water-proof because to ensure the car was clean for the next user, you’d have to be able to hose it out.

    Just a thought…