What’s better: driverless cars or brainless drivers?

Dennis DalmanColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

They say driverless cars are the wave of the future.

Future? They’re already here. Everywhere.

Just the other day I saw one. I was driving south on Hwy. 10 when a pickup truck passed me. I glanced over, then glanced again, my jaw dropping open. There was no driver! What the heck? A ghost? Within a couple seconds, the driver popped back up in the driver’s seat like one of those bouncing clowns. He had obviously been leaning over, out of view, maybe fidgeting for something in the glove box? That was – at least for a few scary seconds – a “driverless vehicle.”

I have seen many more. Hwy. 10, near where I live, is so riddled with driverless vehicles I dread driving on it. I often take side roads, longer but safer.

It’s the driverless cars on that highway/speedway (I call it the Indy 500) that make it so hazardous. Speed demons, going 80, will whiz past you, slamming their horns and flipping you the “bird” just because you’re obeying the law, doing 60.

Here are just a couple of the most egregious examples I’ve witnessed in the past year, both on Hwy. 10:

  • A massive truck that was weaving all over the southbound lane, including many times right onto the shoulder and at the very edge of the ditch. All the way from Rice to Sartell I gripped my steering wheel, white-knuckled worried, dreading the sight of that truck careening off the road. Or worse – into another vehicle. Was the driver drunk? Was the driver falling asleep? Was it some medical emergency happening? Whatever the cause, it scared me. I couldn’t call 911, though I wanted to so badly, because my cell phone’s battery was kaput. Finally, about a mile before the Sartell exit, the truck seemed to “recover” its equilibrium and was being driven just fine. I concluded the driver must have been nodding off, then jerking awake suddenly. Whatever. But I do know that for seven miles, at least, that truck was driverless – or might as well have been.
  • A young-woman driver in the next lane over from me was talking on her cell phone while eating a hamburger with the other hand and steering her car with the wrist of her right hand that held the food. When she’d take a bite of the hamburger, she must have used one of her knees to steer the car because at those times neither of her hands was on the steering wheel. Finally, after sideways glimpsing her inattentive behavior for awhile, I decided to slow down and let her car gain distance on me as I didn’t want to be anywhere near that driverless car.

About 27,000 people are killed every year in vehicle accidents in the United States. Most of those deaths are caused by drunken driving, reckless driving, careless driving or – increasingly so – inattentive driving, with the worst culprits being those who text while driving.

Every time I’d hear about the coming wave of driver-less cars, I’d scoff or laugh, thinking, “What birdbrain thought that one up? Computers driving cars?! Crazy drivers are bad enough. Computers can and do go haywire at any time.”

If they’re going to make transportation so high-tech, why don’t they just go all the way and invent travel arrangements, like in Star Trek, where we can just enter a booth and get “beamed” to any place we want to go – and back again, in one piece. Molecular travel, or whatever it’s called.

And so, yes, I’ve always balked at a brave new world of driverless cars.

And yet . . . and yet, now I’m not so sure. Lately, I’ve got to thinking maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all. It might be better for one and all if Hwy. 10 is filled with computer-driven cars rather than distracted, reckless, brainless drivers?

Author: Dennis Dalman

editor@thenewsleaders.com

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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