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Autonomous Cars Are Not The Answer For The Next Generation of Drivers

Let’s clear something up shall we? Autonomous cars will never be the only mode of automotive transport no matter how long you stretch the timeline. There, I said it. That felt good. Say it with me now…

You’ve probably heard many automotive journalists bitch and moan that autonomy will be the end of the enthusiast and that AI cars will rule the roads in 5, 10, 20, or 50 years. You’ve also probably heard that driving will become a thing of the past in one of those time frames as well. I’m here to let you know that is complete and utter bullshit.

Of course I personally am an enthusiast and enjoy driving to its fullest extent. Why do you think I co-founded a website dedicated to cars? Definitely not for the money. That yearly income statement is looking bleaker than Trump’s tax returns right about now. But here’s the kicker, I welcome and love the thought of autonomy, an opinion that seems to be either in the vast minority or not present at all in our tight-knit little community. However, I welcome it within the constraints of knowing what humanity is capable of on the roads. On one side you have the old-guard saying that autonomous cars are evil. The other side says driving is boring, unnecessary, and shouldn’t get in the way of other activities like drinking coffee, answering that email that will clearly end the world if you don’t respond to it right then and there, or funneling your 3rd cruller of the commute. I enjoy a balance of both. The driving and the autonomy, not the crullers and email button mashing.

But when I see one side starting to instill a dangerous ideology, that’s when we need to draw the line. This article I read this morning was my breaking point. Let’s set up what I’m about to say to you all know where I’m coming from: I am married, have no children, have been a legal driver for 16 years (32 years old), and have never been in or driven by an autonomous car but have driven cars with semi-autonomous functionality (lane-keep-assist, emergency brake assist, etc). Teaching this ideology that someday we will never have to drive is wrong, dangerous, and lazy.


Let’s tackle each point individually.

1) Why is this thinking wrong?

The article states the following:

My own boys have more than a decade before they are old enough to apply for a driver’s license, but I’m already working to plant in their young minds the notion that cars are meant to operate themselves, and that putting humans behind the wheel is wasteful at best, dangerous at worst.

It’s hard to say when we’ll hit the tipping point that will bring driverless cars from a few small-scale tests to ubiquitous deployment. And even after they become safe enough to pass muster with regulators, they will probably have to share the road with legacy vehicles operated by all too fallible wetware. I’m betting we’ll get there sooner than later, within the next decade, and when it happens, my kids will think the change seems obvious, not unsettling.

Human’s behind the wheel of a car is not wasteful in the slightest, and don’t give me the fossil fuel argument. Autonomous cars won’t all be electric. Driving is a necessary task to transport oneself from point A (likely your home) to point B (likely your job) in order for normal commerce to continue on a day-to-day basis. We’re talking about the vast majority here, not you weirdos that work from home (by weirdos I mean heroes). Even if it’s a vacation or a grocery trip, you’re likely going to drive there or drive someplace where you catch another form of transport, which then makes driving a necessity. Things that are a necessity in life aren’t wasteful. Is drinking water wasteful? Is eating wasteful? Is providing shelter for yourself wasteful? Other than the literal piss, shit, and oversized houses in Beverly Hills, on the whole no it is not. If you’re talking about a time suck, then you need to seriously re-evaluate your priorities or your job distance. Time is precious, but if you are worried about 30-45 minutes of your day where you cannot work while commuting, then there is something seriously wrong. Don’t work more or harder, work smarter.

Dangerous is something I can agree with to an extent. Driving is inherently dangerous, but let’s examine why it’s dangerous instead of just saying that it is. Traffic deaths are on the rise due to distracted driving, so let’s focus our efforts there as diving down this topical rabbit hole could take up several websites in their entirety. People now text, read, watch movies, eat, do their makeup, and do any other number of stupid activities while driving. Go check the YouTube videos. Here’s one that’s particularly unsettling.

And the people filming it are shocked, but they are laughing like this isn’t a big deal. This has got to stop. Instead of us humans ending our frivolous bullshit that we think is so important, we put our and other lives at risk constantly. We continue on our merry way until one or all of us gets into a crash where one or more of us was on the phone, texting, or whatever. So instead of getting over our own self-importance, a topic which on the galactic scheme of things is total fantasy, we blame the cars instead of human behavior because why take responsibility for anything right? Driving is dangerous because of humans, not because of technology. If we changed ourselves, autonomy wouldn’t be necessary, but it’s getting to be necessary because we’re all idiots that would rather read War and Peace while getting to Starbucks on a Tuesday instead of having compassion for other drivers, situational awareness, or the mental fortitude to actually complete a task that requires 1/48th of our day.

But the thinking is wrong because it’ll never happen in the lifetimes of anyone born after 2008. Think about it this way. The auto industry, as well as the government, would LOVE for you to not drive so they can reduce the fatality rate to zero, but how long was it from initial mainstream implementation to full adoption of something we now are beginning to take for granted like a backup camera? 16 years, to be exact. It was introduced in the 2002 Infiniti Q45 and will be federally mandated in 2018 to be on all new cars. Autonomous cars being the norm or even slightly accepted in the next 5-10 years? Nope. And full autonomy without human intervention won’t be realized until all cars are autonomous (won’t ever happen), our crumbling road infrastructure is fixed and upgraded to handle such a future (not enough funds exist to make this a reality), and humans let go of the notion that they’ll never have to drive again (also won’t ever happen because humans are too different to ever agree to such a thing).

Again, I welcome technology, but tech should be used as a way to enhance our activities, like driving, not completely take over for them. That’s one step closer to that fat guy from Wall-E. That chair looks comfy, but fuck that guy.

2) Why is this thinking dangerous?

The article continues:

Over the last week, I’ve been entertaining them with the HotWheel AI racing set. While it has artificial intelligence in the name, the set doesn’t actually leverage any of the key technologies that power driverless cars.

Then why are you using this as your basis for understanding?

Still, the Hot Wheels set provides a teachable moment. You can drive the cars manually, but my two sons are too young to have much luck completing the course this way. So I let them struggle and crash for a while, then seat them on the couch and put the cars in full auto. We’ve done this a couple times and they always sit mesmerized for a period of 10–15 minutes, watching the cars effortlessly scoot around the track, occasionally bumping and jostling one another.

My children have only experienced driving as passengers strapped into car seats, but I decided to push things a little further. “Do you think its good for humans to drive, or is it better for cars to drive themselves?” I asked. My older son, currently in pre-school, mulled this one over for a while. “Better for the cars,” he said. “If humans drive, it hurts their bodies.”

I don’t know exactly what his rational was here, but I encouraged this answer. Maybe it stemmed from seeing me shake out stiff legs after a long drive. Or from his own discomfort after being strapped into a safety seat for hours on end. Whatever the source, this was thinking I wanted to encourage. I hope that by the time he’s a teenager, eager to explore risky behaviors and craving both freedom and agency, he’ll think of people driving cars as outdated and unnatural, an activity his goofy old dad used to do, but which no self-respecting 21st century citizen would pursue.

So the teachable moment is that because a 5-7 year old (assuming due to no age mentioned) can’t properly use his underdeveloped motor skills, nor the teaching party the patience to properly show that set of skills, the teacher sits back and tells the highly impressionable child that because he cannot drive a hot wheels car letting cars drive themselves is a superior outcome? Wow. Just wow. This is the exact reason why millennial entitlement exists and manifests in today’s society. It’s even noted that the cars occasionally bump. So the answer is to let machines to all the work so we can sit on our asses, yet sometimes there might be a crash anyway? Holy hell. What have we come to?

This link of thinking is beyond frustrating. I don’t know how to raise a kid, I fully admit that. I’d love to be able to go through that journey one day, but I would never in a million years, regardless of topic, tell my own children that the proper course of action is to sit back and let machines do all the work for us while we take no responsibility. It’s dangerous to teach something to someone who’s impressionable that won’t ever come true. Santa and the Easter Bunny aside, teaching someone something so wrong, so early makes me truly afraid for what the world will be like in 40 years when we hand it off to them.

3) Why is this thinking lazy?

Because it just fucking is. Let’s define lazy. It means the unwillingness to work or use energy. Thinking this way, instead of using real world teachings and logic, is just flat out lazy by definition. Instead of making a real teachable moment where one could say, “While autonomy is a great invention and you’ll likely experience it in your life, you’re probably going to have to drive a car,” one cops out and uses the exact bullshit millennial line of thinking that is currently ruining what should be a beautiful marriage between technological advancement and current machinery. Teach how we got here. Teach the dangers of driving. Teach the reality of driving. Teach the benefits. Don’t just teach that it’s evil and will be a thing of the past.

This isn’t even getting into the other argument that driving is a pleasure and an escape from real world troubles like a movie or a TV show, though I’m well aware that most don’t think like that. Hey, here’s a though, maybe change people’s mindsets a bit and start showing driving as a really great thing that enhances our lives? You know, like traveling 30 miles to work in 45 minutes where a trip like that took 4 days about 200 years ago? But I’m sure the majority of the world would rather be spoon fed Kardashians on the nightly rather than hit the guide button to look for something more worth while to watch.

So instead of changing human behavior, retesting people on their driving abilities yearly, or teaching people driving skills like how to respond when your car is spinning, we invent technologies like autonomous cars and people latch on to them because they think it simplifies their lives. News flash: it doesn’t. It only makes you less of a human.

A member of the media test drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S car equipped with Autopilot in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Tesla Motors Inc. will begin rolling out the first version of its highly anticipated "autopilot" features to owners of its all-electric Model S sedan Thursday. Autopilot is a step toward the vision of autonomous or self-driving cars, and includes features like automatic lane changing and the ability of the Model S to parallel park for you. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What this article is doing is telling the public a catastrophically irresponsible way to introduce the next generation to autonomous autos. If you can sit in front of a mirror and tell yourself that your kid won’t have to drive, you’re either 100-200 years ahead of us all and have somehow time traveled back to the present day, or you’re living in a very simplistic bubble. But, you know, why take responsibility right?

(Source: The Verge)

About Gregson

Gregson's love affair with cars began at a young age thanks to his father who introduced him to racing. He's been a fan ever since he saw his first race live at Watkins Glen at the age of 5. He loves GT3, F1, Rally, Touring, and Le Mans styles of racing. Intermediate knowledge of internal combustion engines. Any reading done for pleasure is devoted to automotive journalism. Gregson owns a WRX and can 4-wheel drift directly into your hedges, no sweat. He currently is a Senior Copywriter for McCann Torre Lazur specializing in pharmaceutical advertising. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Kate and their dog Savannah.

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