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Let the Car Drive Part 2: The Analog driver's view

February 27, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
(My serial presentation of what I see as the ups and downs to letting our cars drive themselves sometime around the end of the decade continues today. In Part 1 of “Let the Car Drive,” we looked at Bob, the digital car owner, who saw only great stuff in letting his car take him places without ever setting a hand on the wheel. In today’s installment, Part 2, we meet Jerry, Bob’s brother the analog car owner, who still drives for himself.)

Across the state, Jerry was looking forward to his drive out to see Bob for the first time in years.

It used to be that he fought traffic, speeders and speed traps on the Interstate, traffic jams around Columbus and the inevitable feeling of being completely worn out by the time he reached Bob’s house.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this summer. As older, non-automated cars were retiring from the fleet, fewer and fewer cars were using the old state and U.S. routes to cross the state. The digital cars, as they were nicknamed, were the only ones allowed on the Interstates and designated state freeways now, thanks to the federal transportation funding act of 2022.

Yes, it meant Jerry had to drive a little slower and through cities, towns and villages, but it also meant he had time to disconnect from the communications web and concentrate on nothing but the long lost joy of driving his own car. It was a trip back to his childhood, the 1960s, when his dad and mom would pile the kids in the station wagon and they’d set off for adventure, eating at diners, visiting roadside attractions and eventually getting to their destination, be it Aunt Martha’s or Martha’s Vineyard. Trips were fun.

The fun was lost over the years, Jerry thought, as roads became more crowded and drivers became more agressive. Accidents began to increase in severity because of the size difference between all the big sport utility vehicles and little compact cars. And idling in traffic jams was found year after year to waste millions of man-hours of productivity, not to mention fuel.

So when Nissan and Toyota and GM came out with their first fully automated cars powered by Android and Windows systems in 2019, it seemed a no-brainer for a lot of folks to give up the frightful and nerve-jangling prospects of driving for themselves. And when the anticipated “computer crashes” proved to be few and far between and with much less severity than those in the analog car days, more people felt more comfortable giving up control to the car.

Jerry never liked the concept. He never was able to adjust to letting his old Ford Explorer park itself,and he darned well wasn’t going to have his old Chrysler 300 retrofitted all these years later with an automated control system. Many people were doing that so they could use the freeways. A whole cottage industry of automated control systems installers had sprung up, but it would prove short lived as the fleet naturally converted to new automated digital cars.

So, Jerry figured he’d keep on driving the 300 as long as he could afford the insurance, which was increasing annually because computer-controlled cars were found to be safer, even if they seemed more dangerous to an older driver like Jerry. For one thing, they rode in big bumper-to-bumper trains on the freeways at 90 mph. They crossed busy intersections in automated lanes in cities were traffic signals were turned off during rush hour. The cars could clear one another with just inches to spare while making high-speed left turns, the “driver’ oblivious while Facebooking or doing some work for the boss during the commute.

Jerry was strictly a right-lane cruiser in town and an avoider of freeways, at least until he couldn’t afford analog car insurance. Then, he’d have to give in to his brother Bob’s haranguing that the digital car was far better for older drivers whose reaction times had slowed.

(Tomorrow: Jerry and Bob argue about the downside to freedom in the digital car era.)


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