Monday, March 12, 2018

Driverless cars can't arrive too soon for me


We humans are just not good enough at driving to be trusted with cars. And even if we are pretty good drivers, our human operating systems can go very wrong, very suddenly.
  • New York is buzzing about the city's failure to file charges against a woman whose car killed two children and injured their mother in a crosswalk. Police say she may have had a stroke and simply isn't chargeable under current vehicular laws.
  • An 88 year old friend of mine who was driving alone recently found herself (and her car) in a snowbank, smack up against a sign post. She couldn't say what had happened.
  • At 89, my own mother had some sort of TIA (transient ischemic attack) while backing her car up in a parking lot, hit the gas instead of the brake, killed one woman, injured another, and hit three parked cars. She had no memory of the event, mercifully, and, of course, never drove again. There were no charges.
This sort of thing is simply going to happen more and more frequently as the proportion of the U.S. population that is older and thus more vulnerable to sudden health failures increases. According to the Census, there will be close to three times as many people over 85 by mid-century as there are today. If we remain a society as car dependent as we are today, lots of us will be driving until we either die or have a disastrous accident. There'll be no other way to take care of ourselves. We've made driving a vital marker of independence. Many of us will have the good sense to stop before we have an accident, but these events can happen without warning -- and we may feel we can't live satisfying elder lives without driving.

There are plenty of skeptics about the potential of self-driving cars; maybe this technology is a pipe dream or a scam. But I doubt it; there's money to be made by reducing the amount of human driver-labor (trucks, passenger rides) that has to be paid for. If the technology proves also a boon to old people, that's just a by-product.

Autonomous cars are now legally out and about in California. Yes, there still must be a human driver aboard in case of crisis and any accident, ever the most minor fender-bender, must be reported to the DMV. (I snapped the photo above on Potrero Hill while Walking San Francisco; there seem to be a lot of them up there.) It will take lots of miles of service for the technology to become more certain.

I'm ready for true self-driving cars to arrive! On this subject, I'm believing the hype.

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