People have been dreaming of self-driving cars for nearly a century.
“An early attempt at a self-driving vehicle came with the help of remote control, as the so-called “Phantom Auto” drove through the streets of Milwaukee in 1926,” Alanis King writes in a recent article.
Colleen worries about what will happen to modern society when self-driving cars replace the traditional ones people are currently using.
I worry about history repeating itself.
Car Accidents Kill and Injure People Every Day
My mother was in a frightening car accident when I was a kid. The person who hit her was an inexperienced driver who had no idea how to navigate winter roads. There was a semi truck that narrowly missed my mom’s vehicle when she was shoved across the road by the inexperienced driver. Had anything happened in even a slightly differently sequence of events, we would have lost far more than a car that day.
A childhood friend died in a car accident one foggy night. He was 16, and he’d proudly shown off his brand new driver’s license to everyone just a few weeks his death. There were so many people packed into his viewing room that we spilled over into an adjacent room where someone else’s viewing was taking place. I’ll never forget what it felt like be surrounded by all of that raw grief.
This isn’t even to mention all of the injuries that happen when cars veer off the road or smash into each other. A family friend was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. Another family friend fractured his leg in a car accident. While he did eventually fully recover, he spent weeks immobilized and in a great deal of pain first.
I think about these stories every time I crawl into a car and put on my seatbelt. While most trips are perfectly safe and mundane, driving a two-ton hunk of metal down the road can end terribly if anything goes wrong.
Not All Drivers Are Safe Drivers
It’s not only your driving abilities that you have to think about, either. There are many people on the road who really shouldn’t be there that day. They may be drunk, fatigued, distracted by a text message, doped up on cold medicine*, or unfamiliar with the local driving laws.
There are also times when people who had been safe drivers for decades refused to stop driving when their mental or physical health status deteriorated. It’s pretty difficult to take a license away from a senior citizen who is slowly becoming less and less safe on the road, who hasn’t caused any serious accidents yet, and who refuses to give up their keys.
*someone I knew when I was younger was once stopped by the police for erratic driving. She had a bad cold that day and had taken so many different over-the-counter products for it that she really didn’t know what she was doing. She was very lucky that she didn’t hurt herself or anyone else.
Different Kinds of Freedom
I understood where Colleen was coming from when she talked about how much she loves the freedom that comes with hopping in her car and going wherever she pleases without a computer controlling the steering wheel or telling her to buckle up.
Freedom is relative, though, and there are many different types of it.
I still wonder what kind of man my friend would be he’d be if he’d lived to become one. He was so creative and energetic. Maybe he would have channelled his love of skate-boarding into some kind of incredible small business? Maybe he would have gotten a degree in Social Work and spent the last decade mentoring kids who reminded him of his sometimes-wild teenaged self?
A few hundred dollars per car and some extra regulations are beyond worth it if they prevent deaths. My grief was a drop in the bucket when compared to what my friend’s family went through after he died. That isn’t the kind of pain I’d ever wish on anyone. Even when the wound heals, the scar stays with you for the rest of your life.
A Car Is a Means to an End
Colleen clearly has an emotional attachment to her car and to the memories she’s made of various trips she’s taken. I respect that even though I don’t necessarily understand it.
To me, cars are a means to an end. If I need to get from Point A to Point B, I don’t care if it’s in a traditional car, a self-driving car, a gondola, Santa’s sleigh, or on the back of a large, purple dragon named Frank.
Getting there as safely as possible every single time you travel is all that counts.
Once they’ve been tested and programmed fully, self-driving cars are going to be much safer than the traditional ones. Human error is a real thing, and it can never be eliminated.
So bring on the self-driving cars! I’m thrilled at the prospect of living in a world where this cause of so much human suffering over the last century can be eliminated.