Who’s Driving The Bus?

The weather’s soon going south, along with a great number of our thinner skinned neighbors. Jack Frost is paving the way for January’s Ice Queen and her minions, treating us to an unwelcome diet of snow and ice, turning our roads into pot-holed skating rinks and our cars into sad victims of the ensuing crashes.

What if you never had to worry about getting into an accident again? Some of us may have that chance. It’s all about a little technical innovation called driverless cars. In Japan they are already street legal. Vehicles even now employ a number of automated functions in the guise of collision avoidance systems, emergency braking and lane departure warnings, with engineers racing to develop user friendly and affordable driverless autos. Florida is on board with being one of the first states investing in the concept – what with the average age of its retirees – probably a good direction in which to head. Even our own Charlie Baker is excited about the prospects in the Chickadee state.

Over 31,000 Americans die in traffic accidents each year. Unfortunately people have some bad habits which follow them into their vehicles, like drinking and driving, texting, and applying their Mary Kay products whilst operating their car. Driverless cars are pretty much that infuriatingly perfect kid that sat next to you in school, always the teachers’ pet, who not only never made mistakes, but tattled on those who did!

Who wouldn’t want to dial up an auto transport that could cart you blissfully through detours and traffic congestion while you read e-mail, chat on the phone or nap. Disabled folks and seniors could benefit immensely for obvious reasons, but the whole subject brings with it disturbing aspects and uncharted territory. For instance, take insurance companies – not that we don’t love them, as we dutifully pay our premiums and try to receive reimbursement after a crash – but if there are not accidents due to human error, we don’t need them anymore. If a road incident occurs, it is likely to be product related, not personal, so why should we pay premiums at all? But remember, there are thousands of us that work for these companies. What happens to us if they have to cut back? Of course, there will be a transition period where drivers and the driverless autos share the roads. Will we feel pressured to buy or contract one, since if an issue occurs, who is taking the fall, the perfect machine or the hapless human? You know where that’s going.

By 2035, it’s estimated 100 million of the cars will be sold a year. But there are other economic ramifications. Health related fields will suffer if auto injuries don’t exist, revenues will be down with no citations, thus fewer officers can be justified, and ultimately fewer jails to house the frequent fliers. There will be no need for street lights since cars can see in the dark. There will be fewer auto repair shops, and say goodbye to the Breaker One Nine long distance truckers. Although in urban areas, 20 to 80 percent of parking lots will disappear and free up land. Property values will diminish. Disenfranchised groups will lobby their pol pals for more regulation to slow the movement in efforts to keep their jobs. The legislators will have tough choices to make – jobs over lives.

But there are still huge issues of hacking and viruses involved. We see it on the evening news every day, will our Russian friends hold hostage armies of our cars as a result of long distance hacking? The public is not convinced. Seventy-one percent surveyed wouldn’t trust a driverless car bringing a child to school, but 31 percent would buy one. An auto car would strike a person before it hit another vehicle, but 79 percent of respondents said they would have their car programmed to crash into another car instead of a pedestrian. No more traffic jams, but communications between vehicles is iffy. It requires a large amount of broadband which was reserved for cars by the FCC in 1991. Big cable companies are banding together to lobby Congress to give them some of that reserved amount. Smart phones and videos can create interference. A dropped cell phone call is annoying; a snafu in a vehicle avoidance system could mean someone dies. Their little black boxes will show the where and when of everything, an investigator and divorce attorney’s dream, but it’s curtains for John and Jane’s privacy. If you program the shortest route to work is Google, which knows what you eat and buy, going to take you on a bit longer trek past that fast food joint in which they have an interest?

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, will Siri and Alexis engage in their own version of road rage as they drag race down the street with the Audi “giving the wiper” to the Corolla? Will there be a mutated Christine in your future? Time will tell. You folks working on roundabouts better watch the driving trending, we might not need them. But wait, who am I kidding? Autos will be dinosaurs by then. We’ll be wearing jet packs and trying to avoid no-fly zones over the beach. Or better yet, we will telepathically attend meetings all day long and never have to leave our pads…er pods…Good golly Miss Molly, I’m just gonna find myself the pharma with the best headache remedy and buy stock, because the way it’s going, we’ll all be needing them!