Driving = Freedom

This seeming codependency on driving a car is so deeply embedded in so many cultures that it is hard to imagine giving up this ability and to allow something else to take its place. The automobile has given so many a significant measure of freedom and independence not seen before in human history. Anything that is seen to threaten this freedom is viewed as deleterious. Many third world cultures especially China, see this newly acquired ability as a necessity and rulers and leaders alike have found it impossible to reverse – and they dare not try.

In the mobile society of the United States, there was an unrealistic push for mass public transit. However, our infrastructure in no way was suited for this undertaking. Though there are busses and trains, these require significant tax revenues to keep operating. Also, they only cover a tiny fraction of the public thoroughfares.

That unfortunately or fortunately leaves the comfort and convenience of the costly automobile – a device that pollutes and kills millions. Also because this thing has displaced other forms of transportation, many who can’t take part in using these devices have found it significantly harder to make their way in life. As a consequence, their livelihoods are far less than the norm.

Less than 20 years ago, an idea took shape, an idea these many wished could eventually become reality. This is self-driving technology. However…

Our society has decided to postpone self-driving technology. Most who can’t drive were counting on this technology to enable them to lift themselves out of impoverishment and to give them a measure of freedom they do not now have.

2019 News Stories about Self-Driving Technology

CNBC - Relax, experts say it’s at least a decade before you can buy a self-driving vehicle.

Relax?!?

Business Insider - When will we have fully-autonomous cars? Not for decades …

Should those who don’t drive stay out of business – for decades?

Wired - Are We There Yet? A Reality Check on Self-Driving Cars … Fully autonomous cars may never arrive. But we'll all benefit from self-driving tech while we wait.

All? No not all. Just the privileged!

Those who can ill-afford to not have self-driving technology are those who won’t benefit from current self-driving technology. These are the elderly who could no longer drive who are sadly wasting away in managed care facilities, the blind, the list is endless. These are the said to be dregs of society who live on the fringes and who are subsisting on the meager government dole.

Cars, Cars, Everywhere Cars

Unlike most other countries, the United States 20th century was a time where the automobile became the only viable form of transportation. Those who can’t drive are either dependent on a married driver or they are often unable to make a good living. Though there are exceptions, these people are rare and most likely live in the two or three cities that have adequate forms of public transportation. But, these places are the most expensive places to live.

For these and other people who can’t drive an automobile, self-driving became the great hope. Now their hopes have been dashed. Relative to their remaining life span, they are getting the message that this postponement for them may be permanent.

Who’s Opposed

There are conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glen Beck, Michael Savage, and thousands of YouTube producers who are vehemently opposed to self-driving technology touting they will lose their right to drive their own car.

Then there are the liberal thinkers who stated this technology cannot be trusted, that it needs many more years of testing to be verified.

Next, there are the legalists who question the liabilities of self-driving systems and – who will be liable when a vehicle accident occurs.

Then there are the extremely wealthy who frequent car extravaganzas such as Audrain's Newport Concours, the Pebble Beach Concours, The Verge and hundreds of other car shows where million dollar automobiles are gathered together. Here cars from all years, vintages, breeds, makes, and models are awed by all who are present.

The invention of the automobile has since brought forth an extension of the human body. Be it luxury, speed or endurance, the automobile still has its place in sports. Vehicles of every generation since their initial production to now can still be legally driven on public land roads. Even most race cars with modifications can legally be driven.

Motorsports today garners billions of spectators watching races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, The Indy 500, Formula One, Stock Car Racing, and hundreds of thousands of other variations.  The power, roar and wine of an engine is felt as those wishing to express their virility as they press the accelerator to the floor.

Very little has changed with the mechanics of driving. Most cars have pistons, crank shafts, transmissions, and petrol. Though electric cars are slowly becoming somewhat common, their power source will always be expensive and they lack the ability to traverse long distances. They’re also denied the convenience and expediency of petroleum based refueling.

Self-driving technology is said to threaten those who, with devotion, wish to always be able to drive their loved and extremely expensive vehicles on the open roads, sighting, governments will eventually and inevitably require special licenses for such a pursuit. Around the world, hundreds of billions of dollars sit in plush garages in the form of rare and beautiful vehicles of all sorts. Restorers and owners cherish these extensions of the human physique. But it is believed if autonomous driving comes to fruition, they would soon see the automobile going the way of the horse and buggy where these treasured cars and trucks will sit in a museum and would become impractical to drive or not be allowed to be driven on the world’s thoroughfares.

Finally, a strong American tradition of the passage from boyhood to manhood is marked by the acquisition of a driver’s license. With self-driving technology, anyone of any age, condition, ability and culture will be able to step into an autonomous vehicle as easily as taking a bus or using an elevator.

I Love You, Car

The United States as a whole has a certain love for the automobile that many other lessor nations can’t really understand. This love-hate relationship leads us to making some rather inappropriate decisions about the car, money and death. The automobile is the single most expensive purchase that immediately depreciates when the car is driven off the dealership’s lot. It continues to depreciate until it is finally sent to the scrap yard. Unlike our homes, it is the single most costly liability we take on. Yet, we love it.

The car is also one of the most deadly instruments that the common American uses on a daily basis. Unlike anything else the average person does in a day, this device can instantly cost us our lives. Also, the legal profession treats death by car much differently than say a gun. Vehicular injury/homicide is far less serious than accidentally shooting a person with a gun. For example, if a person under the influence is caught carrying a gun, they are jailed immediately, their gun is confiscated and they will most likely receive a jail sentence. At the same time, a person under the influence is stopped by the police may be jailed for the day, ordered to pay a fine, but is often allowed to continue driving. Unlike the concealed gun, auto deaths by DUI drivers kill over 22,000 people a year.

Another ideology in our automotive culture is the liabilities associated with stolen, misappropriated or borrowed vehicles. Regardless of who is driving the vehicle, it is the owner who is ultimately responsible for damages incurred by the perpetrator/user. It is through litigated lawsuits where many people did lost their earnings, savings and their possessions including their homes due to stolen vehicle accidents.

In the United States, All vehicles are required to have adequate insurance. Proof of insurance is required when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or vehicle license, or when being stopped for a violation. Then in cases where the offending driver in a multi-vehicle accident is uninsured, it is the other vehicle owner’s insurance provider’s responsibility to compensate for damages.

This misplaced love is in the heart of most Americans and it can easily color our perceptions about driving and freedom. It is theorized that those officials who deal with self-driving technology have these unconscious dysfunctional ideologies about driving and may have caused significant postponement of autonomy for the car. It is this same thinking that has allowed 40,000 people to die from vehicle accidents each year.

I’ve often asked why our country has some of the most liberal forgiving laws when it comes to motor vehicles. I also wonder how our nation would feel about self-driving if every offender completely lost their driving privileges all-together for a serious offence such as driving under the influence. But I say, no politician would dare deny a voter their car.

Driving in the United States is legally and statutorily considered a privilege, not a necessity.

This is no consolation to the vast majority who live without this privilege.  Most lead a subsistent existence of hardship on the bottom of their income strata.  These are the people socialist politicians appeal to. These people are the people who strongly support socialism believing these politicians have their best interests at heart – when in reality, the opposite is true. If you ask these people who make up the constituency if their lives are any better now than ten years ago, they will most likely say no. For you see, it is these politicians who do not want to see self-driving technology. For this would give their constituency a level of freedom and independence they currently don’t have. Is it because these politicians are opposed to self-sufficiency?

Note.  It is very common for those who are allowed to drive to belittle those who can't drive by telling them how they should get around. 

So can we conclude that both conservatives and liberal politicians – as well as most of America impede this technology such that it doesn’t come to fruition?

If Blind

Economically speaking, being blind inevitably spells a lower standard of living.  Along with prejudice and actually being blind, a lack of mobility contributes significantly to the situation especially when it comes to being employed.  Mot jobs are where the busses don't go.

A significant number of expatriates who were born blind since 1950 or have subsequently become blind have left the US seeking a better life for themselves. Knowing the US had a higher standard of living, they never-the-less left because they knew they couldn’t take part in this higher standard life. Instead, they chose a lower standard of living knowing this standard was higher than their life would be if they would have stayed in the US. What made these places better for them was adequate public transportation – something the US continues to lack.

Note. As I've alluded to above, it was and will be nearly impossible for politicians to deny voters their cars.

What’s This Self-driving Thing

The first viable fully self-driving vehicle, a Toyota Prius, was tested in 2009 led by the co-inventor of Google Street View, Sebastian Thrun. The initial goal was to drive fully autonomously. Its initial real-time testing was to drive over 10 uninterrupted 100-mile routes. It did successfully complete the test and went on to further refinement. After that, many self-driving equipped cars were autonomously driven millions of miles without incident. However, due to an accident with an UBER car on March 18, 2018 that killed Elaine Herzberg who was illegally crossing a busy thoroughfare, this significantly set back the testing and development. Although news outlets quickly glommed onto the story hinting at the evils of self-driving, it was not exactly clear if the attending driver had taken control of the car immediately before the accident.

Simply and succinctly, our society tolerated the death of 40,000 people last year by automobile, yet they become exceedingly frightened when one person is supposedly killed by a machine.

Machines Can Kill Me

Imagine, if you would – you’re in a large passenger jet heading to your dream vacation destination. Suddenly there is this loud bang and the plane lurches sideways and starts to fall with frightening speed. It tries to pull you up from your seat. The negative gravitational pull, like being on a powerful amusement park ride, drives fear into your very soul. You are not in control so you can do nothing about it. Your thoughts, “My God, we’re going to crash!” A machine is pulling you to your death and you can do nothing about it.

This is an unreasonable fear of flying. Statistically one would have to constantly be inside of a moving airplane for 35 years before they are involved in a crash. Yet, in the back of your mind, this fear exists. However, most don’t experience any kind of apprehension about getting into a motor vehicle. There in that thin metal pop can, you are far more likely to be killed.

Most think nothing of having someone else in the driver’s seat driving them somewhere. This includes distracted parents, younger siblings, intoxicated friends, hurried UBER drivers, tired bus drivers, etc. All are OK. Yet, if most people were to get into a car with no driver, most would experience significant apprehension. Regardless of the multi-redundant systems that can out sense, out see and out maneuver a human, people will feel this lack of control and will resist the idea a computer can safely get them to their destination.

Today most people walk into elevators and don’t think about the hundreds of meters of open space that lie straight down beneath their feet. But such was not the case when elevators were invented. Many feared that they would fall to their death. Even after Elisha Graves Otis’s invention of the safety break was installed in most elevators, people feared them. As is for a commercial jet airliner, it is extremely uncommon for people to die in an elevator. But, yet, hidden in the recesses of a person’s mind, there is this fear. At the same time, we think nothing about being in a car.

I believe this fear is another contributing factor towards indefinitely postponing self-driving technology.

Which is Worse, Death by Gun or by Car

2,852,901 US military solders and civilian personnel died in all wars from 1775 to 2018.
3,793,881 Americans have died in car accidents from 1899 to 2018.

We honor our fighting dead, yet those who died from automobiles are quickly forgotten. These fatalities are a way of life. It seems the only ones who are mourned are those veterans who fought in wars.

How many people have sustained permanent injuries from wars and how many people have sustained permanent injuries from automobiles? Which group is compensated and which one isn’t?

In auto accidents, the threshold between surviving an accident without permanent injury and death is so very narrow, therefore the numbers of those with permanent injuries is significantly less than those who fought in wars. It is only recent times with the advances in triage where this threshold has slightly widened. Never-the-less, deaths are a way of life – not only in the US, but worldwide where each year over a million people in total are killed by motor vehicles.

It is the relations and spouses of those who did die in auto accidents who, if they knew better, would wish for self-driving trucks and cars.

So, it is the politicians, commentators and news reporters who promote only manual driving who have the blood of those who died worldwide on their hands.

We have a global epidemic yet we do very little about it. Instead, we promote doing nothing and live with things as they are.

Inaccurate Geodetic Databases – A Major Hurdle to Self-Driving 

Another reason states are resistant in allowing autonomous driving is because of the inaccuracies in GPS mapping data.  Computer controlled cars will no doubt relay heavily upon geodetic[1] mapping data to navigate from and to their destination.  Mot know that there are occasional GPS navigation errors. 

To explain: All municipality’s geodetic databases contain mathematical markings that describe the ever-changing positions or coordinates of boundaries, borders, streets and roads, buildings and drive ways, etc., basically everything of significance that is permanently on or in the land. These databases is a major part of where GPS mapping data is derived from.

Google has an extensive mapping database that include the placement of buildings, private driveways and parking. The problem is, considerable number of these databases are either out of date or inaccurate causing Google to also be out of date.  Though Google relies on imaging data from Earth facing satellite data, to correct errors, never-the-less there are errors.

Municipalities use this data to help direct the police and fire to seek out and find particular locations. This includes 911 emergency services. This degree of inaccuracy is understood and tolerated because there is a human that can hopefully understand the data and associated errors and interpret where it is they need to go.

In the mid-80s, I accepted a contract to work with a team on developing programs for managing a mid-sized city’s geodetic database. What we found was a large degree of surveyor errors. To this day, 35 years later, I still notice a lot of errors in these databases which are reflected in GPS navigational errors.

If self-driving comes to fruition, a major task would have to be undertaken to correct significant errors in these databases all across America.

 

Who AM I

My driving career began later in life when I was 28. It was believed I was blind and would never drive. I lived in substandard housing with little hope of bettering myself. Though I was college educated, working to my full potential was difficult because most jobs were where there were no forms of public transportation. Then in 1978, I discovered at an eye doctor that I wasn’t blind and I might be able to drive a car. Like a starving man on the hunt, I sought ways I could get a driver’s license. I finally did find a way that, with a small telescopic lens, I could pass the vision test. I drove day and night without incident for over eight years. Also, my salary instantly doubled. This however would partially end.

The state in its infinite wisdom started vision testing upon driver’s license renewal where they would not accept my lens. After many visits to a corneal specialist, I was able to get a daytime only driving license which I’ve had since. I basically was left with half the freedom. I could take care of the basics such as income, but I couldn’t go out for entertainment and extracurricular activities after dark. When I read about the successes of self-driving technology, I became elated. However, after 12 years, I now realize I will most likely never be able to use this technology.

One more thing: My vision is so close to the minimums that it is entirely possible I will eventually lose my driving privileges altogether.

S November 20th 2019

Postscript

We as humans when left to our own devices have the capacity to solve very complex problems. The challenge of building self-driving systems may seem to be problematical and may be believed to require further advanced technology we currently don’t have. Yet, though the current technology has proven to be viable, it is most likely the legal entanglements that pose a much greater challenge to overcome.

We as a society have acknowledged two anomalous dichotomies as acceptable, the first being mobility is a privilege reserved for the healthy, and the second, 40,000 vehicle related deaths per year are tolerable.

  

  

 

[1] Geodetic - relating to geodesy which is the branch of mathematics dealing with the shape and area of the earth or large portions of it, especially as applied to land surveying.