I love cars. I love driving them. I love working on them. I get unnaturally excited when looking at the specs of a new vehicle that I’ll probably never drive.
Even now I hassle car journalists (some of whom are long-time friends) about the cars they drive usually lamenting about on-board computers taking over the task of driving. I personally am not a fan of traction control, I feel it takes away from the driving experience and gives drivers a false sense of their ability to actually drive safely. I’ve only recently come around on anti-lock brakes and that’s because of safety. And I doubt I’ll ever buy a car with an automatic transmission.
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This past week a friend told me about a rally car training weekend that would cost me nearly $4,000 to attend. All I could think about was how many meals I needed to skip for the next 12 months to afford the course.
So it might seem odd that I’m truly excited for a road filled with driverless cars.
The thing is, I’m not the average driver. For most, the car is a utility or status symbol. It’s either a box they navigate to and from work or an object used to impress friends that’s usually a few thousand dollars north of their price range.
Plus, commuting isn’t really driving, It’s a slow march along a road that’s filled with anxiety, frustration and weariness. No one ever says, “I love my 90 minute commute.” So why not let robots take over the drive and not only make it more efficient, but also less stressful.
I’ve temporarily lost control of vehicles in the snow next to cliffs and near trees and neither got my heart pounding more than sitting in traffic for hours and having someone cut in line to get on the freeway.
For cities like Los Angeles where public transportation doesn’t cut it and mind-crippling traffic is an unfortunate way of life, a swarm of driverless cars zipping down the freeway delivering its passengers to their destinations with the precision of a Swiss watch would be beautiful.
Even cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco where public transportation actually takes you where you want to go, the roads are still crowded with cars that take up valuable space and put pedestrians and bicyclists at risk because smartphones are way more intriguing than what’s happening on the road.
I’m sorry, but the robots will be better at getting you downtown without hitting a pedestrian. Plus, after dropping you off, the car can go park itself in a garage where the room between cars is measured in centimeters.
Think about how much room parking garages take up in a city. We could reclaim more than half of that space if garages didn’t have to think about humans driving in circles looking for a spot or walking around for hours looking for their car.
This utopia of robots driving us to and from work and around town catching up on errands is years, maybe even decades, off. Google has been busy trying to get its driverless cars ready for public consumption while in the UK, four cities are part of various pilot programs to test out autonomous vehicles.
But, when it does happen, there will be a generation that doesn’t know how to drive a “regular” car and they’ll be fine with that.
Of course, there will still be people like me. People that see the car as more than a tool that gets you from point A to point B. People that still want to drive hours or days to locations instead of flying because you’re actually driving and there’s a certain feeling of being in the moment when you’re driving and the conditions are just right and you can’t imagine letting a robot take that away from you.
Our numbers will probably dwindle and a lot of us, myself included, will use a driverless car to get around town because it’s convenient and like I said before, sitting in traffic isn’t actually driving.
But on the weekends, I’ll get in whatever car I own and either head to the beach or the mountains and break away from the robot cars and their amazing ability to drive within inches of one another and get us all to our destinations quicker than we could have imagined when we all drove all the time. My driving will be full of errors and I’ll use up too much gas and go around corners too quickly and it’ll be glorious.
But on Monday, I’ll hop in to robo car and enjoy reading while it delivers me to my job.