The Path Toward a Driverless Nation

August 10th, 2012

Google self-driving Lexus RX 450h

Thirty years ago, eight in 10 Americans ages 17-19 had a driver’s license. Today, it’s six in 10.

That’s the lead to a story at ScienceDaily, which goes on to give lots more stats about the decrease in licensed drivers in this country.

Many teens today don’t care whether they drive or not, and that percentage will probably just continue to drop. In today’s world, when kids can drive on Xbox and instantly connect to friends through technology, the need and desire to move about in the real world is diminishing.

While that’s great for the safety of America’s teenagers, it’s terrible for our car culture. In 20 years ask a guy about his first car, and he’s likely to respond, “A 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia, from GranTurismo on my old Xbox 360.”

Add Google’s self-driving cars to the mix, and car passion is at serious risk.

On its company blog,¬†Google¬†proclaimed a major milestone in its quest to put an end to driving as we know it: Its driverless cars have driven over 300,000 miles without a single accident under computer control. Sure, that’s impressive and all, but it’s also depressing, because it means there is a very real future in which driving is obsolete.

There’s no doubt that computers could create more¬†efficient, safer and faster travel. The cost, though, is huge: the further disengagement of humans from the process of living. Driving isn’t just about getting to a destination, it’s about engaging with the world and the machinery that humans build. If we’re all just shuttled around from place to place, relying on computers for our social experiences, work, entertainment and transport, what’s to keep us from turning into the ultimately lazy version of humanity shown in movies like WALL-E?

While a culture of self-driving cars is still many decades away, what’s going to happen to driving professions? Will taxicabs and long-haul trucking get replaced by computers?

Already some Google employees are using these self-driving cars to commute to and from work, which means the technology could reach everyday commuters sooner than we think.

Come to think of it, if modern teens don’t have to do anything with their cars, maybe they’ll start to love them again.

Are you for or against the concept of self-driving cars? Will they destroy a car-loving culture?

-tgriffith

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  1. Dave
    September 11th, 2012 at 14:07 | #1

    For some driving a car is engagement with the world, you’re in a glass box so it isn’t direct engagement like riding a horse or walking but is sort of an engagement. For others it is hours of torture; which is why so many prefer to txt, talk on the phone, or sleep at the wheel. A couple hours of driving at my choice can be pleasent and stimulating, but I have yet to read an essay that can convince me that my hour long commute is anything but enraging or that a 10 hour drive is not a literal pain in the back. Think of all the enjoyable things that can be done in the car and brace for the future, because millions like me will gladly pay an extra 5-10k to never be forced to drive again.

  2. Jim Redd
    August 14th, 2012 at 12:23 | #2

    As much as it sucks, this is the direction society is headed. Kids today are lazy, and they’re more interested in the next speed of cell service (4g? 5g?) than the next kind of car they can drive. As sad as it is, transportation will become just that… cars will move us, we will no longer move them.

  3. Elise H
    August 10th, 2012 at 11:58 | #3

    Randy I think you make a very valid point when it comes to pollution & limited resources. I completely agree.
    I believe however Mr. Griffith’s stand point in this article is that it seems our culture is shifting away from actually experiencing life. We seem to be complacent with a mediocre encounter. When I drive a car, I just don’t operate that vehicle I become a part of it. The control and power go hand in hand. The palpability of the experience is where one finds satisfaction.
    Sure self driving cars are great but then what’s next? Robots that bake brownies and eat them for us while reporting how delicious they are. Haha, pass!

  4. Randy
    August 10th, 2012 at 06:42 | #4

    As a culture, we need to grow up and put away our childish things. Hey, I’m a pure product of the car culture. As a teen I always dreamed of working at the GM Tech Center and grew up to spend most of my career there. I’ve driven some of the most technically advanced vehicles in the world as well as some of the highest performance. And yet, I can see that the challenges of pollution, limited resources and the continuing carnage on our highways needs to be addressed. The world simply cannot sustain a culture where there are more gas-guzzling polluting cars than there are people. Younger people have the right idea. Burning up ten gallons of gas to cruise around with your peeps doesn’t make much sense in the land of Skype and Twitter.

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