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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Michael Reagan: Self-Driving Cars Will Compromise, Not Enhance Safety


Michael Reagan


Self-Driving Cars Will Compromise, Not Enhance Safety

By Michael Reagan

There's an apocryphal story told regarding the early automobile. According to legend, in 1895 there were only two cars in Ohio and yet somehow the two managed to crash into each other. We have a somewhat similar situation in California today.

Both Google and Delphi Automotive are currently testing what Reuters calls "self-driving prototype cars." The justification behind developing a self-driving car is that the developer can probably wheedle some tax dollars from Uncle Sam, if the concept works.

The hype behind the self-driving car claims these rubber-tired robots are more efficient, save gas, and are safer than cars piloted by that idiot who leaves three car lengths between himself, and the car ahead, at stop lights.

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Plus, passengers will finally be able to give their full and complete attention to their smart phone instead of being distracted by angry honks from other drivers and nuisances like applying the brakes.

My first question is who will decide where you go? Will passengers have to get permission from some government commissar to make a trip to 7-Eleven for cigarettes?

Hmmm, that question answers itself. Or even if you want to go to the gym will you have to wait until a full carload of people want to go before HAL will pick you up?

But before we reach that level of government destination control, there are some bugs that must be worked out, beginning with robot road rage. Last week on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto, Calif., the Delphi car — Reuters describes it as a "prototype Audi Q5 crossover vehicle equipped with lasers, radar, cameras and special computer software designed to enable the vehicle to drive itself" — was cruising along during a test.

At the same time, going the same direction there was a Lexus sedan with Google at the wheel. Faster than you can say "ramming speed" the Google Lexus cut the Delphi Audi off as it tried to change lanes. John Absmeier, business director for the self–driving program and a passenger in the Audi, said his Delphi car "took appropriate action."

After reading the list of extra equipment I first thought his car fired its laser cannon and sent the Google car to silicon heaven, but it seems it simply aborted the lane change and avoided the crash. Google has no comment on the incident.

Frankly, I'm not sure I'm willing to surrender the autonomy necessary to be comfortable in a robot ride. What happens if the software crashes and you're on the highway? A robot caught in some endless software loop is a recipe for disaster.

And I won't even mention the "Blue Screen of Death." I think the self–driving car is just another attempt by self–described elites to do something to the rest of us for our own good. To which I'm prepared to give HAL's answer: "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

Michael Reagan is the son of former President Ronald Reagan and chairman of the League of American Voters. His blog appears on

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