To the tire slash­ers and charger block­ers mak­ing head­lines: hol­ster your rocks

Montreal Gazette - - TROUBLESHOOTER - LOR­RAINE SOMMERFELD Driv­ing.ca

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.

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