The Driverless Car - It's Here!

By William Thomas

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So, I’m reading this newspaper article on how a fleet of amazing driverless cars will be ready to take to North American roads in less than four years. That’s right, well before the end of this decade you will be motoring down the highway in a car using its own operational system with reflexes and road etiquette way better than yours.

Driverless cars are equipped with sensors, radar, GPS systems, Google mapping, stereo cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, algorithmic equations and two drink holders – one for the passenger and one for the guy who’s not driving the car. Self-driving test vehicles are already legal on the roads of Nevada and California. We may not have gotten that “flying car” they promised us decades ago, but the “van with no man” is coming at us like a runaway train.

In America, self-driving Toyota Prius have already logged 483,000 kilometres without a signal accident. That’s fine as long as Google’s working. However, on the day “This Page Is Not Available” pops up on search sites, every car in North American will immediately crash into each other. It’ll look like the roads in Russia on Vodka Appreciation Day or China, every day. Normally, I would be against a robot driving my car but, seriously, if it gets rid of my backseat driver… I’m all for it. However, if that genius Prius thinks for one minute it’s going to select the tunes, I’ll be forced to put a Club lock on its steering wheel.

So, just to be clear, if you’re driving in the States and you come up beside a van with a bunch of guys drinking beer and eating pizza in the back, that’s not a self-driving vehicle. That’s a Buffalo Bills tailgate party in motor mode.

Still, questions about self-driving vehicles remain. For instance, could you nap in the backseat while your car drives you home from work? Could you pre-program the itinerary so instead of going to Whiterock for the day you, in fact, send the in-laws to Tierra de Fuego, Chile? If your autonomous car refuses to follow your instructions and dismisses you as a “stupid human,” is there a button you can push to blow it up? Could oversized car seats be installed in the back for guys to sit there looking at the scenery and playing “I Spy” because I think that would be a really cool way to travel? If you do get into an accident, would you be obligated to go to court and testify against your own car? At Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru, would your driverless car have to remind the server to stir the coffee and cut the bagel completely in half?

And, of course, the question that has plagued men for 25 years… while watching a movie curled up on the backseat going 100 kilometres down the highway sucking on a Slurpee, could you actually tape another movie on another channel at the same time?

If, as scientists claim, that humans will one day have sex with robots and we all know how much men love their cars… well, do you think self-driving cars will one day be able to reproduce? Not giving birth to full-size vehicles, obviously, but maybe little go-carts or hybrid bumper cars?

As I’m reading about all these incredible features the futuristic self-driving vehicle will have, I thought… hey! Wait just a New Yorker minute. My brother-in-law Danny already has one of those. Really. In fact, just the other day we were sitting in his brand new Toyota Rav4 and Dan was showing me how he could watch his car move on the dashboard screen with sensors that show how close he was getting to the curb and a brightly-coloured graph that shows him how much fuel he has in the tank and how many kilometres he can go before he runs out and the Bluetooth voice-activated communications system that serves as a cell phone and the album covers that pop up on the screen to indicate the song, the artist and some of the words and the two-way talkie GPS and the memory stick that gives you unlimited pre-recorded CDs and… and all of this would have been fine if we had been sitting in his car, idling in the driveway.

Unfortunately, we were travelling at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour down Highway #5 between Buffalo and Dunkirk, New York as oncoming cars were taking to the shoulder and drivers – yes, those cars had drivers – were gesticulating and flashing us the finger or pointing excitedly to our side of the road where we would normally be if Dan had not been completely absorbed by all the new, flashing gadgets on a dashboard that looks more like the instrument panel of a 747 passenger jet.

At one point I yelled: “The car, Dan! You have to steer the car, too!”

Yeah, my brother-in-law Dan has a driverless car, mainly because he’s so completely absorbed with all the bells and whistles on his new car that he forgets to steer and work the pedals.

Can somebody tell me how a man with a brand new shiny toy is not designated as a distracted driver even before he gets the damn thing off the lot?

In four years, when the real driverless cars become available, the automobile industry would be wise to give one to my brother-in-law for free. It would be best for everybody on the road, particularly a few hundred Western New York drivers who failed to make it to the nearest rest stop.

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