Cars That Drive Themselves

So this article on, an excerpt from Fortune, got me wondering, why are some people so damn hesitant about cars that drive themselves? I understand the main point: freedom. But if you think about it, how is that any different than when a person takes an elevator or escalator to get to one floor or another? Isn’t a person giving up the same type of freedom doing so?

Take the elevator for example first, a person gets into the elevator (which is usually located at some specific spot) and it goes up and down. The most control (or choice) a person has is which floor to go to. Granted that in some cases, the elevator has not entirely resolved the issue of overcrowdedness, people going to the wrong floors, or those jerks who choose to push every button in the elevator, but it does reduce the amount of traffic, no? Consider what happens in cases where people are forced to use the stairs. At my school, in the Business Building Classroom (1 building with multiple rooms), we have stairs that are quite frequently used. The Business Building Classroom is three floors high. People use these stairs to get to and from their classes and to leave since its situated near the main entrance. During rush hour, people can be quite inefficient in the paths they choose. There is no clear up side or down side, everyone goes up and down where ever they can find space. What is really irksome is when two or more people decide to stop on the stairs for no reason other than to conversate. Tell me you’ve never seen a person slam on his or her car’s brake abruptly because they are about to miss their exit or turn while three lanes to the left? The elevator (or in this case, cars that drive themselves) takes directional thinking out of the hands of people who are already too consumed with many other things on their mind (or just plain too stupid) to navigate.

In other parts of the country, I’m sure people are not used to the traffic we have in the Bay Area. Of course, we’re not the worse by far (ahem, New York, LA, etc.), but we rank up there. Imagine how much traffic jams and how many accidents would be reduced when a computer handles the calculations of how fast to go, when to begin coming over to make an exit, etc.? Also consider that while the car is driving, this allows the driver to concentrate on other more important things such as talking on the cell phone, putting on makeup, eating, even reading.

Especially now with gas where it is, and proven facts that using cruise control increases gas mileage, I would think this would be something more appealing to people. Imagine taking a trip with your family on some 2-3 hour drive, instead of being left out of the fun and games the driver can’t partake in with his or her family, he or she can now, just sit back and relax and be there safe and sound. Even drunk driving would be a thing of the past. Completely wasted? No problem, stagger your way out to your car, get in, hit HOME, and after a brief nap, find yourself safely at home.

I like driving as much as the next person, but the benefits far outweight the consequence of giving up driving “freedom”. You know how many people would still be with us today had they not been killed by drunk drivers, sleepy drivers, speeders, or even mistakes caused by themselves? Even you’re 90 year old grandmother could safely get driven to the market or her nightly bingo game without bothering anyone else or causing road rage in over zealous younger drivers who feel the older generation is driving a tad bit too slow.

I realize driving is a psychological factor dating back to the times of the Lewis and Clark expedition and its a deep rooted historical tradition and even a testament to our American values, but like all other things, things do change. As a popular slogan in my Organization Change and Design class (a business class), “The only constant thing is change.”

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