Some car talk into the future

By Joe Angelino

Sun Columnist

Ground transportation of people and things is on the threshold of significant change.

Self-driving autos were at one time a baby-boomer’s futuristic dream, which then became a distinct possibility and is now inevitable. Depending upon who you ask or what you read, predictions that autonomously driving vehicles powered by anything but fossil fuels will be the norm in as little as 5 years or as far out as 25 years.

All sources agree self-driving cars and trucks will be plying our highways sooner, rather than later.

The technologies for alternative fueled cars are spreading to consumers at a quicker pace than self-driving vehicles. Full electric or hybrid powered cars are regularly seen on the road, in parking lots or a neighbor’s driveway. However, seeing a self-driving car might require a YouTube search or a glimpse on the news. When you do see a self-driving car, it will usually be in the perfect weather of Southern California or on the straight, dry roads in Nevada. Seldom is an autonomous vehicle seen navigating Maine or Minnesota snow-covered roadways in January, unless it is to demonstrate the difficulties encountered.

Have no fear; these self-driving cars are getting ‘smarter’ all the time along with installation of better equipment, technology and artificial intelligence for negotiating most regular highway occurrences and assorted mishaps. Most – but not all things encountered in a human world. Uber, the nemesis of taxi drivers, should be commended for opening a self-driving auto technology center in Pittsburgh, PA. The City of Three Rivers has many tricky driving challenges found in most old, East Coast cities. Things like winding, snow-covered, narrow one-way streets with pedestrians and potholes galore.

Presently, no cars are allowed on the road in full auto-driving mode. All of them must have a human in the driver’s seat paying close attention if the need arises to take over the driving responsibilities. By the end of 2018 California, naturally, will be the first state to allow non-human occupied vehicles to operate on public highways. Car engineers predict the most dangerous encounters will be when a fully self-driving car encounters an older automobile driven by an erratic and impulsive human.

Predictions and guesses are many of what it will be like once cars on the roadways are exclusively autonomous. Some are humorous, some expected while others are mind-boggling. Here are some comments and questions I’ve heard from various people;

What if car ownership ends? People’s homes will no longer need garages and their tax assessments should go down.

Beer and liquor companies might be good investments. There will no longer be drunken driving arrests, so sales of alcohol should go up, right? And a follow-up; won’t a sober human always be required in a car? With the rebuttal of; cops won’t have probable cause to stop a perfectly driven car.

Will cars decide who gets hurt? In a scenario of a child darting into traffic, the car might avoid the child and strike a fixed object which saves the child but injures the passengers.

What if a criminal walks in front of my car causing the car to stop; he could rob me or take my car. And, the follow on to that; the same criminal has an accomplice walk behind my car to prevent it from reversing, then I’m trapped.

Traffic cops and parking meters should disappear like watering troughs for horses did in the early 20th Century.

Traffic crashes will be reduced dramatically, and so should insurance premiums and hospital costs.

If no one needs to have their own car, there’s no need for all of these parking lots. This unused space could be used for housing in cities, further reducing rural population.

During Weather Service travel advisories some cars programming may not allow them to operate until the weather clears.

Creative companies, such as Dunkin Donuts, may have cars waiting to offer free rides around town so long as the passengers listen to their commercials and maybe even a mandatory stop for coffee break.

Those were just a few examples and “what if’s” surrounding the future of automobile travel. This is something we all use and our collective futures will drastically change, but no one knows exactly when. Auto companies are just scratching the surface of the capabilities of self-driving cars and trucks and likely there’s a long way to go. If an autonomous vehicle is in my future, I’m certain I’ll miss driving, but it will come at a time when my age will require a self-driven car for everyone’s safety.

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