Contrariwise: Beware the Self-Driving Car

Technology is great, but what happens if your self-driving car gets you in a wreck?

Robot driving car

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Roughly 37,000 individuals die in car accidents in the U.S. every year, most of these caused by human error. Sometime in the future, the steering wheel will be taken out of the hands of people and handed over to A.I. devices that will be largely infallible. You’ll be able to step into your vehicle and simply punch in your destination. Presto! The car will take you there.

But how soon should the transition to driverless cars take place? Organizations such as the RAND Corporation, a public policy research group, argue that we should speed up the rollout of self-driving technology. Waiting, they say, will cost lives. Yet driverless vehicles are far from infallible. Just this April, a prototype driverless 2019 Tesla S crashed into a tree and killed its two passengers, all while the driver’s seat was empty.

We’ve reached a whole new standard of laziness, driven by an unceasing desire for instant gratification.

The technology will no doubt be perfected someday, but rushing into it is “utter nonsense,” says William Jeanes, former longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of Car and Driver magazine and author of The Road to Pickletown. He simply cannot fathom why someone would want to hand over the steering wheel to a machine. “Just go get in your car and get what you want,” he says.

Jeanes acknowledges that he is “something of a Luddite,” but his animosity is not so much about advances in technology as it is about what the automated car says about society itself. He believes we’ve reached a whole new standard of laziness, driven by an unceasing desire for instant gratification.

For Jeanes, at least in the near term, driverless vehicles bring two very specific words to mind: trial lawyer.

This article is featured in the July/August 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. In reply to Norris Palmer’s comment, “it’s like beware of steam engines.
    He doesn’t understand that the engine isn’t the problem with driverless cars – it’s the electronics that are worrisome. When they work, great. When they don’t, there’s usually no warning, they simply cease doing what they were designed to do. Minor things like controlling the speed, the steering, the braking.
    The defense, if you wish to call it that, for driveless cars is that technology will eliminate any possibility of malfunctions, Hmm we’ve had computers now for decades. They and the software are constantly being updated and “improved” yet they still fail. Those failures are always sudden, without warning and as the blue screen says “Fatal Error!” That message is taking on a new and more consequential meaning with the advent of the driverless car.
    Besides, all that, those systems are vulnerable to those low life (actually no life) scum who hack into systems for fun and profit. There are numerous incidents when they have actually taken control of vehicles.
    Maybe it’s more like, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts”.

  2. Who among all you who predict technology will solve all the problems with driverless cars and trucks has an infallible crystal ball showing you the real and unimagined future? I predict none of you do. Should this story and others like it last long enough, the very absurd idea of a driverless or pilotless anything will show the height of man’s visionless and ignorant folly. There was once an idea of a nuclear cruise missile that would prowl around the earth for years at a time without refueling it’s nuclear fuel. Then, after testing, engineers developing the missile found that the radiation spewing out the end of the thing would kill virtually all living things in its path. The development of this tragic thing progressed almost to fruition and deployment! Should our enemies, such as Communist China, Iran, and now the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan develop a missile such as this, do any of you think they would consider it more than once before launching such a missile? I can hear the reactions of this idea now. “Oh! That’s absurd!” How does that relate to driverless cars and trucks? Scientist developing that nuclear cruise missile didn’t plan for anyone to pilot it; it was expected to pilot itself! The nuclear missile incident happened long before the develop of today’s technology!

  3. Driverless cars are a two-sided coin with the negative side far outweighing the positive. On the positive side, driverless cars represent forward development in technology and innovation. However, driverless cars also represent the downside of humanity. The “need” for automated driving acknowledges that we are unable to teach humans how to drive safely and properly. In effect, driverless cars say, “We’ve given up on driver education because we have hit the limits of human learning capability and thus it is impossible for humans to be responsible drivers.

    As someone else commented, technology is making us lazy. I find that to be truth to the nth degree. As a friend of mine stated, rather matter-of-factly, “The more I use my GPS, the less I know where I am.” That’s one of the saddest sentences I’ve ever heard because it exemplifies the downward spiral of our cognitive abilities. Driverless cars will only increase our blithe unawareness of the world around us while decreasing our spatial awareness.

    I will never, never, never own a driverless car.

  4. Driverless cars do not mean laziness, it is just man’s endless imagination. Perhaps some offshoot will come of it like the microwave oven.

  5. Perhaps you are not old enough to recall when every elevator was legally required to have an elevator operator?

  6. A lot of good comments here; like Mr. Crawford’s raising a lot of crucial questions. The answer to his last one is people can’t be trusted to hold onto the wheel because far too many DON’T have the brains or ability to do so for the reasons stated.

    Newsrider, yes. The idea of ‘flying cars’ was mid-century fantasy that’s more absurd now than ever. We’ve had ‘flying cars’ in the form of private planes and helicopters for decades with horrendous crash rates, by people who have pilot’s licenses, and are professionals on top of it. Look at the crash that killed Kobe Bryant and several others early last year; not to mention the thousands of helicopter and private plane crashes we don’t hear about.

    Why yes, John R. Mmm hmm. Assurance it’ll all be maintained by reliable computer technology, but still with many elements as ‘potentially’ dangerous. To some, that’s part of the appeal; but don’t worry. The technology’s designed to provide driving in complete safety, of course.

    Chris, you make a lot of good points. It’s too bad Tesla wasn’t smart enough to use smart people who knew what they were doing, and not do dangerous things the vehicle was not equipped to handle. A major eff-up before the car was even started. And who would trust our greedy. mixed-up. messed-up, corrupt brain-dead government to do and execute ALL of the things you mention with the various levels needed that would have to work in sync as needed? Our lying, sabotaging government will see this as their golden opportunity to eliminate a lot of people just innocently driving to the store.

    Raymond, what you state needs to happen and quickly to put the kibosh on this before it even gets started. On a related driving note, where the hell is the technology to stop high speed chases? They’re constantly happening in crappy L.A., just like they were 30 years ago.

    Nobody seems to have “an answer” at this late date. I’m in no way an expert on this, and wouldn’t expected to be. Still, it’s kinda obvious once the police helicopters are above the criminal vehicle, drones specifically made to target this could be easily deployed, shutting them down almost instantly. None of this extremely dangerous crap going on 2-4 hours.

    Oh! Just heard an ad for the 8/15 edition of ’60 Minutes’ where they’re going to repeat the story on the driver-less trucking industry. David Bruns, you sum it up perfectly. Thank you.

  7. There is no logical reason for self driving automobiles, trucks, trains or planes, now or ever. At what point are Human Beings completely out of the picture?

  8. the american legal system and ambulance chasers will quickly kill the self-driving car. the lawsuits against the car manufacturers with deep pockets will be endless. why would I as an owner of a self-driving car assume any liability for an accident.?

  9. The article is a joke written by someone who is I’ll informed. The Tesla crash wasn’t by an experimental vehicle, it was caused by the operators doing dangerous activities that the car is not equipped to handle. When car manufacturers get to what is known as level 3,4 & 5 autotonimus vehicle that the function of driving will be automated there will be cameras mounted in the vehicle to monitor that the operator is paying attention that is level 3. Level 4 & 5 will be full automated but require the vehicles to communicate with each other as well as infrastructure that the vehicle will communicate with the traffic lights and other devises within the city, that will take a long time to reduce the number of car that do not possess the technology needed along with the cities infrastructure capable of supporting such technology.

  10. Nothing at all can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong………………………….!

  11. Prediction:
    Self-driving cars will kill more people on the streets and highways in the United States than have ever died in a car with a sober driver in all of previous history. The deluded “experts” thinking they are the future are living in their own fantasy world. Even the Post has, more than likely, published stories about predictions that everyone will ride in flying cars before 1980 or so. Such predictions never came true because of the immense danger of doing so and the immense difficulty in air traffic control topped off by the ridiculous idea that everyone should have a pilot’s license.

  12. As a biker and a member of American Motorcyclist Association who acts as an advocate for bikers and their rights and safety n the road, I received notification a few months back that a motorcyclist who was obeying traffic laws and stopped at a stop sign in AZ was ran over and killed by one of these auto-driving automobiles. I believe litigation and/or a lawsuit against the non-driving owner and automaker is pending. Simply put: A.) There has not been enough testing and thought built into this sort of technology to make it completely safe for everyone who shares the road and; B.) If you are unable or too lazy or preoccupied to safely drive and share the roadway then you should stay at home where you won’t endanger innocent lives.

  13. I think driverless cars could be great for highway driving, if people can stay awake? We know now that trips on the open road can and do put people to sleep. If you have nothing to do, then what, text? What about inebriated drivers? Even now folks think they are OK to drive after a few drinks or puffs or whatever so, if your car can take you home safely by itself, you can really tie one on and no problem. What’s the use of driverless cars, are people so darn lazy they can’t hold on to the wheel and use their brains.

  14. Norris Palmer confuses the purpose of an engine with that of a steering wheel. The problem is not with what produces the power in a vehicle but with what controls and directs it.

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