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Who really wants driverless cars?


Driverless cars – I attended a recent talk where a prominent local politician extolled the benefits of driverless cars. Apparently all major car manufacturers are racing to be among the first with this new technology. I kept wondering, what is the point? What do we need “smart” cars for?

The main trouble with “smart” appliances is that they are so complicated, it is impossible to fix them when something goes wrong. Recently a friend was describing how her dryer is a “smart” appliances and supposed to sense how much moisture is left in her laundry, but never gets this right.

Similarly, when driving with a friend once, his GPS insisted that we drive North get to a town that was in fact East of us. We had to turn off the GPS and rely on a road map to get to our destination. Who on Earth wants this same “smart” technology whisking us along at 100kmh or faster??

Riding a bicycle, I was nearly run off the road once by a driver relying on his GPS. A bad road surface forced me closer to the centre of the road and his GPS was programmed to stay right of the centre line, no matter what. It took some loud yelling on my part to get the driver to alter course. The centre line, by the way, is only there as a general recommendation and can be crossed in many circumstances.

Perhaps Google is doing tests with driverless cars in California, but Montreal does not get the same weather as San Francisco. We get snow, sleet, slush, and freezing rain in great quantities here. Will the driverless car sensors work in Montreal weather?

I have seen tire ads with the slogan: “you have a lot riding on your tires.” It seems we will be having much more riding on our driverless car software. Can we really trust it?

Software, by the way, is perhaps the consumer product where it is easiest to hide manufacturers’ defects. Consumers, if they survive the road incident, can always telephone the product support number, but will probably somehow be told the situation was their fault. And it is impossible to test the software for all possible scenarios.

Can somebody please explain what is wrong with actual people driving cars? That is what we’ve been doing since gasoline cars were invented in 1886 and so far, it has worked fairly well. Despite all kinds of bad driving behaviour being fairly rampant, serious accidents are on a pronounced downward trend. Seat-belts, airbags, better overall vehicle design, better legislation, better awareness and better enforcement have all contributed to the improvements.

According to security watchdogs, one segment that welcomes the advent of driverless cars with open arms is terrorist organizations. You have to take pity on ISIS; some days it must be difficult to recruit drivers for suicide bombing runs! With driverless cars, there are no more worries. The bombs can be packed inside and the car simply programmed to go to the nearest U.S. Army barracks or to 24 Sussex Drive or wherever. A cell phone call detonator or a timer would do the rest…

My concerns are similar about the proposed driverless REM trains: what would happen if there were a vehicle malfunction or a health emergency aboard? When moving thousands of people, things need to be planned to make provisions for emergencies instead of relying on wishful thinking!

As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s apply this wisdom to keep people in control of cars and trucks.

By: John Symon – info@mtltimes.ca


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