Danny Tyree, 6/29/2011 [Archive]

Are You Revved Up For Driverless Cars?

Tyrades!By Danny Tyree

What happens in Vegas... may soon be parked in your driveway.

That's because Nevada has passed legislation that puts it on the road to being the first state to authorize driverless cars — that is, cars that (with minimal oversight by the owner) navigate themselves via video cameras, radar sensors, laser range finders, artificial intelligence and tips from that nosey old woman who lives at the end of the street and knows EVERYBODY'S business.

Google has done extensive testing of such technology, but Volkswagen and various other organizations are also interested in it. Although it will take a while for such vehicles to (a) go into mass production and (b) trickle down to me through the used car market, I cheer the development. My father-in-law has a passion for driving long distances. "Phooey!" says I. Sure, I start out behind the wheel in "Born To Be Wild" mode, but that soon gives way to "The Thrill Is Gone." Driving can be a tedious endeavor, with the weight of the world on your shoulders as you try to stay between the lines and watch for trouble.

Driverless cars would be much more efficient. Their precision would mean fewer accidents, fewer traffic jams, less congestion and fewer idling cars wasting fuel. If there's any justice, the added highway capacity would be taken up with OPEC officials streaming into the U.S. to knock on doors. ("I have some lovely oil here. Half price today.")

On the other hand, I can understand the new paradigm unnerving some people. A car used to be a status symbol. Now it will be a daily reminder that "humans have slower response time, humans can't gauge distance, humans get distracted, humans are about to let one more skill atrophy." Yep, self-esteem is right out the window when your car patronizingly tells you, "Fasten your seatbelt. We're off to watch an exciting pre-programmed driverless-car NASCAR race. Try not to drool or wet yourself."

Taking full control of two tons of steel used to be a rite of passage for young people. Telling the computer your speed preference and then twiddling your thumbs-- not so much. ("And for my next big rite of passage... Mom, could you and Dad tag along on the honeymoon?")

There will undoubtedly be special driver's licenses for owners of driverless cars. I wonder if the cars themselves will need a license? ("You DMV jerks think that photo looks like me? Let me show you what else my laser will do.")

One of the big selling points of the driverless cars is that they would make the roads safer by providing designated drivers for owners who overindulge in alcohol. But the trust level of the entire system falls apart when you realize that some of those hammered passengers may be Google programmers. Their inebriation could certainly affect the attitude of onboard computers worldwide. ("Offisher, I swear I only had two quarts of 10w40—only two quarts.")

Oh, well, sit back and enjoy the ride. Although, oldies fans may never get the hang of turning on the car radio and gyrating to "Little Old Sensor From Pasadena," "Baby, You Can Program My Car" and "The Long And Winding Road That Varies In Elevation From 573 Feet Above Sea Level To..."

© 2011 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades". Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.

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