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Riding Shotgun in a Driverless Car

Derrick Coyle

Derrick Coyle

“I see from a Canadian Underwriter news story, Ontario will soon be testing automobiles that drive themselves.”

“Aw, that’s crazy talk. How in the name of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a car to drive itself?”

“Well, apparently it’ll have a mind of its own. You know, making decisions with computers, cameras, sensors, GPS systems, and the like. The technology will guide the driverless car through the streets, once it’s given the coordinates.”

“That’s a load o’ bunk if I ever heard one. Never in all my years have I heard such nonsense. And, how in the heavens would the car know to stop at a red light or a stop sign?”

“I’m no expert, but the sensors might gauge the flow of traffic and cameras could pick up the stop signs and traffic signals. If the cars ahead begin to slow, or if the light changes even with no other traffic around, the empty car will know to come to a stop.”

“So, I’m to take it then, a fella could drive himself to the pub for a pint, then have his car drive him home when he was done?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. Or, the guy could send the car home and summon it back to pick him up when he was ready to leave. The car could be completely empty, or the owner could be in there riding shotgun.”

Shotgun 1a“Yer sayin’ the owner could be in his cups, just so long as he’s not driving, like? And, he could be sitting in the passenger seat eating potato chips and drinking beer, provided the car was driving itself?”

“I was thinking more of the owner reading the newspaper and making a phone call on the way to work, but subject to local laws, it would really be no different than having a human designated driver.”

“Only in this case, there’d be no risk of drunken blether with the DD.”

“Well, there could still be that. The car would likely have a voice like Siri keeping the passenger posted with destination times, alternative routes, weather reports, and such.”

“Who?”

Siri, you know, the Apple gal you can ask questions like: who’s winning the ball game? Or, what’s a good Italian restaurant in the area? Or, where’s the nearest rest stop? She’ll answer you just about anything – providing it’s not too personal.”

***

“Right then, but what if the self-driving car runs out of gas on the way home from the pub?”

“It wouldn’t happen. Its computer would know the gas level was getting low and Siri would report that the car’s redirecting itself to a service station.”

“A self-service station?”

“I suppose it would have to be full service, for now.”

“But how’s a driverless car to pay for the gas?”

“There would probably be an automated payment plan linked to the registration. A camera at the service station would snap a picture of the licence plate and electronically bill the cost of fuel back to the owner. You know, kinda like the 407 ETR toll system.”

“Would the handsfree Hyundai be allowed on the highway? And, what about the speed limit? It would be the hazard from hell if the computer capped it at a hundred on the 401!”

“There might be adjustments – so the owner could preset a percentage over the limit for certain areas. Like, stick with the posted limit in school zones, but crank it up by 10 or 15 percent on the highway. There will surely be photo radar enforcement, so you’d have to choose carefully.”

“Maybe this is not such a bad idea after all. It might put an end to road rage. What would be the point of shooting the finger at a driverless car going 110 in the fast lane as you speed past it down the middle. Unless the empty car is gonna have a monitor with nasty graphics and flipped the bird first!”

***

“I’m still not clear on what would happen with accidents, though.”

“There wouldn’t be as many because much of the human error is removed. Less impaired or distracted driving and fewer poorly judged left turns at intersections. The driverless car would never actually cause an accident, and because of it’s defensive programming, it would avoid many others when human drivers make mistakes.”

“But it couldn’t possibly avoid them all. What if a car travelling on an overpass flipped over the edge and landed on the highway in front of the driverless car? Or, if the vacant Volvo blew a tire or struck a charging moose in the dark? Or, what if it’s stopped at a red light and some wanker piled into the back of it and bolted because there’s no driver to report him?”

Shotgun 2a“Well, you have a point. There would still be accidents. But, the onboard cameras and sensors would record everything. The computer would be able to tell whose fault it was, report the accident to police and EMS, and provide the plate number for the hit-and-run vehicle.”

“Okay, but what about the art of driving? Like hunting for the best parking space in the Costco lot. Would the car just go to the nearest empty spot, or would it circle with the other cars, pouncing on a close one that freed up? And, what if two cars saw the spot at the same time? Would the honour system apply or would the defensive driver settings always let the other guy win? And, how would the empty car manage to pick up my coffee at the Tim Hortons drive-thru? Then, there’s the winter: Would the ice and heaps of snow need to be cleared off the driverless car, or would the roadways be covered with great mobile masses of snow drift?”

“I don’t think all the details have been worked out yet.”

***

“Well, I’ll tell ya, I don’t like it. It may be fine for these computer-minded, Millennials, but I’d far rather be driving stick and calling the shots behind the wheel myself. Where’s the fun in driving if you’re not weaving the gaps in 400 series traffic. Or, if you can’t even give a courtesy flick of the high beams to warn oncoming traffic of a radar trap?”

“That may be true for some of our generation, but I’m afraid there is no stopping this train. After all, think of what this could mean for Brampton alone in reduced accident rates and orderly traffic flow. Even when accidents do happen, there will be less rubbernecking to slow things down on the opposite side of the road. Commute times and the stress of driving in rush hour traffic will almost certainly be reduced.”

“Well, I guess so – But, oh, what our grandparents would say if they could see things now.”

*****

Photo credits: #1 РTech.co  #2 РVulcan.com

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