Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Memo To NHTSA: To Make Safer Cars, Get Rid of Drivers

The nation's automotive safety agency--NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to those of you living outside the beltway)--held a press briefing yesterday to tout ways it intends to make cars safer in the future.

Among the ideas bandied about were cars that can tell if you're over the legal alcohol limit, talking cars to let you know if someone ahead is braking, and various proposals to prevent distracted driving while texting, tweeting and facebooking.

Here's a better idea: get rid of human drivers. The age of the driverless robo-car is nearly upon us. The technology already exists in affordable form--it's just a matter of testing it and tweaking it for the myriad circumstances a robo-car might encounter on the road (especially as long as there are still human drivers). Indeed, Google has been testing a pair of robo-cars in various big cities with great success.

There are a lot of advantages to robo-cars. One is that a person can go partying and still get home without endangering the rest of us. Another is that everyone in the car becomes a passenger, and they can do whatever they want--text, yap on the phone, tweet, update their Facebook profile, put on make-up. If ALL cars were computer driven, they could also get us where we want to go faster, as the variability of human drivers would be taken out of the question.

We also like the idea of universal valet service--have the car drop you at the front door of wherever you're going and then find it's own place to park.

This won't happen overnight, but we think that by 2020 fully automated robo-cars will be a routine part of the transportation landscape. The Curmudgeon son is about to get his learner's permit (egads!), but we think the grandchildren will never learn to drive their own vehicles.

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