Michael Shannon, 11/4/2015 [Archive]

Robot Cars: The Return of the Sunday Driver

By Michael Shannon

Perceptive conservatives have long been suspicious of 'mass transit' because of the term's Karl Marxian connotations. For the left that's a selling point because wedging the masses into mass transit allows 'experts' to decide where we will work and where we will live. The only roadblock, so to speak, is the automobile.

People like cars because personal vehicles embody individual transportation decisions, which in turn is why the left hates the automobile. As far as it is concerned individual transportation decisions have been nothing but trouble. Mobility nannies blame the horse and wagon for making Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion possible —a grievous example of sprawl that killed the buffalo, put asphalt on top of the aquifer and finally produced Ronald Reagan.

(Simultaneously lefties are strangely silent on the northward expansion that brought us a quarter of Mexico's population, closely followed by the rest of Central and South America. This may be because illegal immigrants didn't drive here and it's hoped these new residents will prove to be bus riders.)

Since individuals are proving to be so stubborn, planners are adopting an incremental strategy. Uber had real promise as a bridge solution because it bypassed sclerotic, unresponsive cab companies and increased utilization of cars that were already on the road. Unfortunately enthusiasm dissipated after female riders found trading dirty cabs for dirty drivers was no improvement.

Now the people who know what's best for us have decided that robot or self—driving cars are the stepping-stone to a mass transit future. Assuming they can pry the steering wheel out of our cold, dead hands — whoops, bad analogy, particularly when USA Today reports "self-driving test cars are involved in crashes at five times the rate of conventional cars."

Naturally human error (not programmer error) is blamed, an explanation that creates more than a little skepticism among computer users who have had to reinstall Windoze. Trial lawyers aren't too happy, either. Robot cars may have four times the injury rate, but the injuries aren't ambulance—worthy — meaning cable viewers probably won't have to endure a deluge of "have you been injured by a robot car" commercials.

I think there are two factors causing the increased accident rate. First, robots are extremely cautious drivers that obey all the laws. Think 16—year—old student driver out for his first test drive. And the robot's software doesn't assume human drivers are idiots, which is the only way to avoid most accidents.

Here are a handful of situations robot drivers may not anticipate in time to avoid collision:

1. When robots perceive flashing blue lights on the shoulder it's no cause for concern because authorities have the situation well in hand. Humans immediately rubber—neck to see if the victim was the fool that cut them off earlier.

2. Robots may have no experience with drivers whose lives are so filled with spontaneity they are unable to predict turns early enough to use a signal.

3. Robots can't tell if a motorist comes from a culture where driving is such a cause for celebration that alcohol is liberally applied to both pilot and passengers.

4. Robots may not accurately predict levels of distraction because they aren't required to document their lives for future generations through texts, selfies and conversation.

5. Being childless, robots have no experience with turning around to admonish unruly toddlers or fishing sippy cups from the floorboard.

6. Finally, robots don't routinely hit their brakes before changing lanes and might fail to realize many drivers use their brake in place of thought.

So far the only real advantage to robot cars is their lack of vigilante spirit. You won't find a robot convinced the car has been deputized to reduce speeding by camping in the leftmost lane of the highway at exactly the legal speed.

——

©Copyright 2015 Michael Shannon, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant, and is the author of "A Conservative Christian's Guidebook for Living in Secular Times." He can be reached at mandate.mmpr@gmail.com.

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