Posted by: silverback | 2010/03/01


how come 30 motorcycles (or race cars, for that matter) can leave the starting line at one time, but six dumbasses can’t manage to pilot their Buicks thru an intersection before the light turns red again? i’m beginning to think fully automated vehicles may be an idea whose time has come. of course, America would never go for it, for a number of reasons. the very fresh, over-reported, incredibly hyped Toyota recall debacle has the government convinced that America’s drivers aren’t actually the problem. oh no…it’s the cars, of course. they’re driving themselves!

i personally think they might do a better job. one of the most ridiculous scenes to come from the stupid Toyota congressional hearings (yeah – that does mean our taxes’re paying for that, as well) was the woman whose Lexus purportedly accelerated out of control somewhere in Tennessee.

in overly-theatrical tears, she tells the story of how no matter what she did, the car simply would not slow down. she had the wherewithal to call her husband on the cell phone while piloting her rogue vehicle through traffic at 100mph, but she couldn’t hit the fucking brakes?!?! here’s the thing – the weakest brakes on a modern vehicle are more powerful than the strongest engine. put your foot on the brakes, the car stops. period. my truck is probably pumping out 500 or 600 ft-lb of turbo-diesel torque, and if i simultaneously stomp on the brake and the go-pedal, the truck will just sit there, smoking, making funny noises, until the transmission blows up – swear. if that got old after a little while, i would probably just turn the key off. i understand the panic makes people do unreasonable things, but if you’ve got the presence of mind to make a phone call, there are several much more effective options at your disposal for a “runaway” vehicle.

in the latest issue of one of my motorcycle magazine subscriptions, a man wrote a letter to the editor. he began, “speaking as a police officer with 17 years experience, i am disgusted by current driving behavior…the people who use the far left lane as their personal domain are the source of 90 percent of the problems on the highways of the United States….(it) causes frustration and contributes to dangerous passes and lane changing. (but) what can be done to remedy this situation?” he goes on to rail a little bit on Harley riders who have no courtesy (duh) and to claim that Americans take no pride in their driving skill (again – duh) as the Europeans do. this is not news to me. what is news is that apparently the police have no right to stop any driver who is not overtly breaking the law, even if they are driving comfortably swaddled in spatial ignorance or just plain lack of courtesy. just what we need – powerless officers of law.

in my utopian society, automobiles are fully automated. probably twenty years ago, many of the automobile magazines were predicting we’d have some form of computerized traffic control by y2k, but like so many other good ideas, the populace is resistant to change the status quo. i imagine some form of “gap control,” at least in metro areas, where we would all turn the control of our vehicles over to Big Brother during the commute, and when the light turned green, every car would begin moving simultaneously, accelerating at a constant speed to maintain a comfortable gap between vehicles. our destinations would be programmed into our integrated GPS systems, and once shuttled off the main arteries, drivers would be given ample warning before control of the vehicle is relinquished back to them. you know, so we could end that phone call or browsing session.


gotta send that fax before my exit


surface streets would still be primarily “standard” control, leaving plenty of opportunity for bicycle and foot-commuting, as well as fender-benders in light-controlled intersections to keep the insurance companies from going broke. merging would be system-controlled, stopping and starting, and fast-lane/slow-lane choice. drivers would no longer have any control over what speed they choose to travel on the main arteries, or perhaps there could be a single, walled-off section of two-lane for people who were in a hurry and wanted to take their chances. the speed would be the most efficient average – probably 60 or 65, except for the far left “express” lane for longer-distance commuters, who may be traveling 70. default mode would return control to the operator after a loud, positive warning. if the operator didn’t acknowledge the reversion, or in the event of a mechanical emergency, the vehicle would be shunted to the breakdown lane and stopped as quickly as possible.

it would obviously take considerable investment in infrastructure and could be the newest high-tech industry in America. it would set the standard for the rest of the world and revive the economy with actual ideas, manufacturing, and jobs, instead of printing money and giving it indiscriminately to broke people/corporations as we currently are.

i also understand this is mostly a pipe dream. America is not going to relinquish its God-given right to drive whatever car we want in whatever manner we choose, especially not to no socialist computer system! not even if it works better and ultimately allows us to be even lazier.

in the meantime, maybe we could start with baby steps – like programming the GPS systems, which an alarming number of people seem to be dependent upon. it could, for instance, tell drivers traveling at or below the posted speed limit to “please travel in the right lane until your next turning,” in that soothing automated chick’s voice. i bet it’d work.




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