WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO BEFORE FULLY TRUSTING NEW TECH
To the tire slashers and charger blockers making headlines: holster your rocks
If you think driving enthusiasts and social philosophers have been hard on the rapid evolution of electric and self-driving cars, it’s nothing compared to how some citizens have started treating them. They’re slashing tires, playing chicken and throwing rocks at autonomous vehicles. They’re blocking the charging stations EVs need. It’s like the Indiana Jones scene where Indiana simply shoots the dude swinging his sword in a great theatrical display of fabulousness. If you can’t win the game, change the rules. Manufacturers know that at some point they have to take their technology out of the lab — or controlled environment — and test it in the real world. People seem OK with that until they realize their world is the real world. I don’t blame them. While statistically a couple of deaths due to self-driving cars is nothing (except to the victims’ next of kin) against the daily slaughter caused by old-fashioned terrible drivers, optics and headlines are everything. Arizona has been leading the way in rolling out the red carpet to allow first Uber and now Waymo to further their testing. Residents are responding with rocks. I’m probably not allowed to say I don’t blame them, but I don’t blame them. As The Guardian reported, “Arizona’s Republican governor repeatedly encouraged Uber’s controversial experiment with autonomous cars in the state, enabling a secret testing program for self-driving vehicles with limited oversight from experts. The previously unseen emails between Uber and the office of governor Doug Ducey reveal how Uber began quietly testing self-driving cars in Phoenix in August 2016 without informing the public.” Hand me my rock. These guinea-pig cars (or are the citizens around them actually the guinea pigs?) still have a human on board to take over should things go awry, but there was also a human on board when a woman was killed by an Uberowned Volvo in self-drive mode last March. Much is made of the statistics behind autonomous driving: millions of miles driven safely, a couple of high-profile, headline-dominating deaths, so could we please just focus on the statistics and stop fussing over the deaths? Well, no, we can’t. Early adopters of things like electric cars are willing to gamble running out of juice. Those gambling death by jumping off cliffs with hand gliders are risking their owns lives, not mine. But when you take unwilling captives hostage, there will be blowback. When you do it in secret, there will be more. In another example of low-tech but effective revenge, owners of large pickup trucks have started simply blocking charging stations so EVs can’t charge. Childish? Yup. Pointless? Eventually. I’m sure the current political climate in the U.S. and increasingly here has something to do with this. The us-against-them theory is exhibited nowhere more clearly than by the vast chasm between those moving toward the future (every single manufacturer) and those clinging to the past (anyone pretending it will go away). Until now, most seemed able to simply laugh and point at the opposition, but I’m now worried the increasing call to violence is being reflected on our roads. You do not throw rocks at things you don’t like; you do not insert yourself in the way of someone doing their thing when it has zero effect on you. There’s a video making the rounds of a man using his Tesla to tow a huge pickup out of the way of the charging station. EVs have amazing torque. I’m not going to mess with someone who may or may not have a gun rack on their pickup, but hold your fire if I just stereotyped someone who would do this. I’ve always taught my kids that when someone is angry, they are usually afraid of something. If you’re scared enough of a little EV to block it’s lifeline, I’d hate to think what you’re like in the rest of your life. I wonder what the rock flingers and charger blockers will try to do when the next generation of vehicles, er, lands. There are now at least eight companies (and the number is increasing) developing flying cars. Google, Uber, Airbus and others are deep into the evolution of eVTOLS (electric vertical takeoff and landing). So holster your rocks and park your pickups over there. EVs and autonomous cars may be ushering in something we haven’t even bothered writing the headlines for yet.
Trucks blocking Tesla Supercharger stations are the latest twist in the resistance to advancements in automotive technology.