SAY NO TO CARS WITHOUT DRIVERS!
You may think driverless cars are the best thing, but GORDON HALL hates the idea
WHEN Bertha Benz loaded her teenaged sons into husband Karl’s patent auto-wagen on August 5, 1888, and drove it from their home in Mannheim to visit her mother in Pforzheim, 106 kilometres away, she started a revolution that would reshape history.
Until then, the motorised cart was just a technical curiosity but Frau Benz demonstrated its social possibilities.
People sat up and took notice — the mechanical gadget was actually useful — and Karl Benz’s invention conquered the world.
After that, cars became objects of romance, adventure, war, greed, manipulation and social status.
They were raced, driven across inhospitable continents, floated on water, armed and armoured, jumped through hoops of fire, enlarged, shortened, reshaped and sometimes fitted with impossibly big engines.
They carried young and old, the sick and injured, ran guns and moonshine, saw death and new life, nurtured budding romances and caused the ends of others.
They granted mobility and independence to millions who could afford them and to billions who couldn’t, but had enough to pay for the use of someone else’s.
Owners took pride in being able to exercise free will and enjoy the privilege of being able to drive them. The love affair lasted over 120 years but it is now fading.
Driving has become a chore, roads are too crowded, it takes almost as long to get where you’re going as the time you plan to spend there, and users have more pressing things to do.
In a world that’s too “busy” and friendships many but transient, connectivity, connectedness and multi-tasking are all that concern people.
Cars ceased being straightforward mechanical devices, controlled by their drivers, years ago. Today’s over-patented auto-wagen is filled with electronic gadgetry to overcome pilots’ incompetence, stupidity or lack of interest.
They compensate when you drive too fast, brake too sharply, wander out of line, don’t look where you’re going, drive while fatigued, forget common courtesy or follow too closely. They obey road signs and look for animals behind trees, cyclists about to fall off their bikes and pedestrians ready to wander across your path. They even park themselves. Some don’t need you there at the time.
Promoters believe that within 10 years, cars will drive themselves to places of work and entertainment. During the journey you will catch up with correspondence, do office work, or engage in electronic chatter with unmet acquaintances on social media. If that gets boring, you can in-stream music or video programming while kicking back with a Mountain Dew.
You won’t even have to face forward while doing so. A Mercedes-Benz research vehicle, the F015, is a luxurious electronic wonderland furnished in walnut and white Nappa leather and fitted with four swivelling lounge chairs. Designed to be completely autonomous, it can be manually overridden should its operator so choose.
Such drones won’t be able to collide with each other, go too fast, hold up traffic or disobey rules. They will be pre-programmed to find wanted freeway exits in time (no dangerous lane jumping) and should the “driver” be suspected of unlawful activity, such as theft of the pod in question, police will be able to take control and stop it safely.
Questions like “who is responsible if a collision occurs”, or “how do you prevent hackers from hijacking it?” are at present unanswered. They aren’t considered important right now because progress must prevail — the nanny state demands it.
The frightening part is that the great brainwashed believe it’s a grand idea — look at readers’ comments below online articles about autonomous cars, or surveys claiming that most drivers would welcome them. A recent poll of 1 350 UK drivers indicated that 59,1% would buy a self-driving car, for example. That sample is too small to be meaningful, but it does show the effects of preconditioning.
But here’s a thought: instead of mollycoddling, get back to basics. Drivers need to enjoy independence responsibly. Slow your life down. Look, think, be sensible and learn all necessary driving skills. Concentrate. Electronic chatter can wait.
Authorities must return to basic policing. Be seen, be respected, ticket minor transgressions and be ruthless — with unroadworthy vehicles and dangerous driving of all kinds — all the time.
Bertha Benz left a wonderful legacy. Don’t squander it.
• What do you think, can robot cars save the day? E-mail your views to firstname.lastname@example.org Contributors stand a chance to go on a test drive around the Hesketh race track with one of the Wheels team in a car that needs your inputs.