BALTIMORE — Self-driving cars will kill our precious thrill of the open road while hurting large segments of our economy.
When killjoys and bureaucrats get their way, we give up the things that make our lives rich and fun. We’re are approaching that now with these pod-like vehicles.
Private companies and federal agencies are working to put millions of driverless cars on America’s roads, and there’s a good chance those vehicles will eventually comprise the majority of personal vehicles on our roads: Some are predicting fully automated cars could be 10 percent of global vehicle sales yearly by 2035 and that percentage likely will grow.
For example, Google plans to put its autonomous driving technology into minivans, Tesla plans to have a fully driverless car ready by 2018, and many other companies plan to roll out self-driving cars by 2020.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department has kicked off the regulatory process that will be necessary for the technology to grow.
There’s no doubt that federal bureaucrats want to discourage individual driving — and, as usual with government meddling, will tell us it’s for our own good. George Orwell’s 1984, a 1948 book that described the ultimate “deep state,” is upon us!
So, let’s look at our society with driverless cars as the dominant means of private transportation.
First, it would take away the precious freedom of mobility and the magnificent joy of driving on the open road that have made America the most mobile — and most fun car country on Earth.
H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, once defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” Driverless cars are a 21st century illustration of that adage.
No one with an ounce of adventure coursing through their veins wants to travel in a drab little pod — probably with federal hackers recording your every move and quite possibly your every conversation.
Forget that wonderful little ditty about “the free, fresh wind in your hair … life without care.”
When you look out the pod’s window all you see is other pods — rather than an occasional awesome Ferrera. Mustang, Corvette or Porsche. It would be like driving on a highway littered with nothing but boring Priuses and drivers to match.
There would be no more thrilling, iconic car movies such as Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, Paul Newman’s Winning, James Garner’s Gran Prix or “Thunder Road,” the perfect 1950s drive-in movie with bootlegger Robert Mitchum outrunning dull revenue cop Gene Barry.
Chase scenes would have to be done with bicycles…....of course, with drivers wearing government-approved helmets.
Some 65 years ago “Route 66” captured the imagination of the Baby Boom generation with two young guys having great adventures while they sped across America’s open roads in a Corvette convertible. We would never have fallen in love with the show if the guys stayed home in, say, Dubuque.
Of course, massive change — especially when heavily guided by Big Government — always means huge economic disruptions.
For example, hotels would lose as people slept in their cars during overnight trips. Using cars as a moving motel is much more cost-efficient and convenient than booking a hotel room.
Some futurists are predicting that pod car interiors will eventually be able to morph between driving mode and sleeping mode, presenting a major problem for the hotel industry.
Without a chance to show their individuality in the cars they drive, millions of Americans will be losing out on the thrill of the open road.
That will make people far more nostalgic for the Golden Age of Automobile boosting attendance in such famous car museums as the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana and the Antique Automobile Club of America in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
As Americans view these glittering works of automotive art, they’ll begin to fully realize just how much the country has the lost as it switches to dullness of automated pod cars.
Whitt Flora, an independent journalist, covered the White House for The Columbus Dispatch and was chief congressional correspondent for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. Readers may write him at 319 Shagbark Road, Middle River, Md., 21220.
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