January 15, 2015

Do We Really Want Driverless Cars?

In a new America, the cars will drive you — and we’re not speaking figuratively.

As made plain during the Consumer Electronics Show, road-ready driverless cars are only years away. And this has made us wonder: What will happen to our inner-driver? The part of us that gets something out of steering, shifting and going fast.

Driving can be therapeutic, almost meditative. Driving long distances forces you to be an active member of the present, to concentrate on the here and now. If driving were to suddenly become a passive experience, it would be just another excuse for Americans to lose themselves in their smartphones. Perhaps they wouldn’t see the incredible landscape around them. Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to see the towns along the road. Pretty soon, we could be losing a whole slice of American life that we’ve spent the last 100 years building up.

The highways and byways that popped up across the country in the early part of the 20th century are a testament to the fact that for the last century America has been a car culture. An entire infrastructure has been built around cars. Driverless cars could soon turn driving into something that happens to you — rather than something that you control. It’d be a shame to lose the feel of fully controlling.

But as much as we love cars and the driving experience, we can’t be stubborn. There’s no denying that driverless cars are the eventual future. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, several car companies expounded upon driverless car technology. Audi dispatched one of its driverless A7 sedans — with auto onboard — from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas to attend CES. That’s a pretty interesting way to get there, and one hell of a long drive for … nobody at all.

Perhaps the best outcome is for driving becoming an optional thing. A flip of a switch, and your driverless car turns back into the steel stallion it was made to be. While it may be more convenient to simply get in a car and press a button, it certainly wouldn’t be nearly as fun as controlling an incredible machine.