Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Sun, April 21

Editorial: Dumbing down our drivers

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks during a news conference about self-driving cars, Tuesday, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks during a news conference about self-driving cars, Tuesday, in Washington.

If you were from another planet and just watched our TV car commercials, you’d think we were a bunch of incapable twits.

For those who can’t master parallel parking, there’s a car that will do that for you. If not paying attention to the road in front of you is a bad habit, there’s a car that will brake for you.

And, if you really hate the whole driving experience, there’s a new generation of vehicles being tested to drive for you.

We need laws in this state (like a texting ban) that will punish you for not paying attention, not vehicles that make it easier for you to daydream on your phone.

Whenever I see the “self-braking” vehicle commercial, I picture a teenage driver behind the wheel, reaching for the phone because, well, the car will handle any obstacles in their way.

The federal government recently provided a 112-page document of guidelines for self-driving car manufacturers to follow so this technology can be marketed without supposedly causing safety issues.

“The guidelines from the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration don’t tell companies specifically how to get to an autonomous car that can safely carry people down the road, leaving a lot to interpretation. But they tell companies to explain how they’ll comply with a 15-point safety assessment before they roll out the cars. And the guidelines also make clear that NHTSA will force recalls if software doesn’t perform as it should. The agency, for the first time in its history, may even seek authority from Congress to approve technology before it goes on the road,” according to an Associated Press story.

Did you catch that really important phrase in that quote? “... if software doesn’t perform as it should.” We are trusting computer technology to run this vehicle and interpret everything around it correctly. I’m sure it’s totally safe because computers never freeze, hiccup or get a virus, right? Believe me, if my car relied on my wonky laptop to drive it, I would have died in a fiery crash long ago.

According to AP, “Among other things, the safety assessment asks automakers to document how the car detects and avoids objects and pedestrians, how the car is protected against cyberattacks and what sort of backup system is in place in case the computers fail.”

Do you realize what happens when a system fails? Someone may die. Or at the very least, your vehicle will be hit by an autonomous vehicle and now you have the fallout of an accident to deal with.

Google is currently testing these vehicles in the Phoenix area, so chances are we’ll see them around here sometime in the near future.

No doubt some drivers could benefit from a car driving itself, without road rage to worry about. However, is this technology so necessary we are willing to give up controlling our own vehicles? Not to mention the worry we will have that the car heading toward us is autonomous and something is about to fail in its computer brain.


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