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Posted: March 31, 2018

Driverless vehicles should turn in their keys

“Perceptions” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

I know it’s not polite. It might be vulgar and a bit self-serving too, but I’m going to say it anyway.


Last fall, I wrote a column in which I said if you’re counting the days to the advent of the driverless car you’d be better off waiting for the invention of a flying carpet to take you to Mars or Donald Trump to stop fibbing. In particular, I said: “So sorry because it’s not going to happen. Not in your lifetime. Nor mine.”

I still stand by that statement no matter how much I’m derided.

I trust that most of you are aware of the second death last week caused by a driverless car running down a woman in Tempe, Arizona. (The other was a driver in a Tesla last year.)

Apparently 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was minding her own business pushing a bicycle around 10 p.m. March 25 when she was struck by a 2017 Volvo SUV owned by Uber on a test drive. The vehicle was going around 60 km/h and didn’t slow down before tragically hitting the woman.

A YouTube video shows the woman behind the wheel with her head slumped down appearing to be nodding off just an instant before the deadly crash and then a second or so later she’s sitting bolt upright with her eyes almost bugging out of her head and her mouth wide open.

Now, it’s true that the victim was pushing her bike outside of the crosswalk lines when she was cruelly struck down, but this doesn’t let driverless car proponents off the hook because their biggest argument is that driverless vehicles will be safer than vehicles with a living, breathing, human being behind the wheel. How absurd!

Driverless vehicles don’t think. They’re not safety conscious in unsafe conditions. They have no conscience. They’re machines for God’s sake! They can’t tell a pedestrian from a telephone pole. They don’t feel the weather. How could they? They don’t have flesh and blood. Nor do they have “eyes” like you and I do.

All they have is electronic beams or a Lidar scanner that doesn’t have a brain to pull the vehicle over to the side of the road when it’s too dangerous to drive. Nor does it have 20/20 vision and a brain with 50 years of driving experience to back it up.

So, it’s the middle of January and you’re driving to Calgary to catch a plane to warmer climes. It’s 30 below and the wind is howling in the Crowsnest Pass. Snow is getting ready to slide in Rogers Pass and it’s a whiteout and you’re nodding off in your driverless vehicle dreaming of drinking pina coladas below the palms beside the pool. Is your driverless vehicle going to pull over to the side of the road and Lidar speaking in a Stephen Hawking-like voice, gently wake you up and say it’s too dangerous to go any further? It’s a totally unrealistic scenario. And so are driverless cars no matter what Google, Apple, Uber, Tesla and all the other geeks say.

Prior to the fatality, Arizona and other states had been allowing driverless car companies the unfettered right to test drive their vehicles on state roads against an unsuspecting public. Now many states and some Canadian provinces are temporarily cancelling the testing programs in the wake of a storm of criticism.

“Sadly, this is a reminder of the risk that comes with rushing to get more and more self-driving cars on public roads before we know they are safe,” says David Friedman, director of driving for Consumers Reports.

Sad indeed, but today’s society is infatuated with technology to the point of blindly believing it offers solutions to all our problems, real and imagined. Yes, driving can be a problem at times, but surely the answer isn’t handing driving over to machines while we lose the ability to drive ourselves? That’s why I believe driverless vehicles will never become a major form of transportation. People have more sense than that. They know driverless vehicles will result in more accidents, not fewer.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who trusts human drivers more than machines.

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