Our evolving love affair with automobiles | Dom Giordano

Pump Your Own Gas
Changes in Oregon laws leave New Jersey as the only state that forbids self-service at the gas pump.

As we head into 2018, there are more and more stories about tests and experiments about the wonders of cars being driven by computers. The meme is that they are the future and they make the future even better than the Jetsons. Count me out of this utopia.

In fact, Ronald Bailey at Reason.com, the prime libertarian website, asked whether we might need a constitutional amendment to ensure that, five to 10 years from now, we will aid to still drive our personal cars rather than being driven around by a computer.

Bailey quotes Bob Lutz, former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors, in an article in Automotive News saying that vehicles “will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.”

He added, ”By the time 20 to 30 percent of vehicles on the roads are fully autonomous officials, we’ll look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents.”

Lutz believes most self-driving will be in the form of standardized vehicles operated by big transportation companies.

This future is anathema to me. I see my car as a liberation machine that awaits my every whim and need. I also have a thing about not being driven by anyone.

About the only time I was driven by someone in the last 10 years was by a NASCAR driver at the Charlotte Speedway for a segment for my radio show. We went 182.5 mph and it was a blast, but I wouldn’t have done if it were a self-driven vehicle.

Some of this push toward self-driving is driven by our fascination with new technologies, but it is also driven by the fact that America’s love affair with the car has really cooled off.

In fact, some in Philadelphia are so enamored with the city-sponsored no car days in Center City that I think they’d like to ban cars from much of Philadelphia. They certainly wouldn’t mourn the loss of freedom and mobility represented by owning and driving your own car.

Lutz further predicts in Automotive News that, in the near future, the driving of individual vehicles will continue, but only as an elite pastime confined to country clubs and the equivalent of motorsport dude ranches.

As bad as some drivers are in the Philadelphia area, I’m much more comfortable with that than with a machine controlling my fate.

The other driving story that intrigued me recently is a new law in Oregon that now allows residents in the entire state to pump their own gas at self-service pumps. This development means that New Jersey is now the only state that still prohibits drivers the freedom of pumping their own gas. In Oregon, the sentiments of many were best expressed by the woman who posted on Facebook: “No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients [around] and not feeling safe. This is a very bad idea. Grrr.”

I experienced the same panic and anger with South Jersey callers, who are more fiercely defending their desire to never even consider pumping their own gas. I heard people tell me that they don’t how, that self-serve will cost jobs, and that they will fight to the death to stop self-serve.

My mockery of these positions and argument that self-serve is another choice or liberty issue didn’t win a lot of support.

About the only driving story that encouraged me is that Philadelphia has thrown off the inefficiency of the cab companies and embraced Uber. Uber is cool and capitalistic.

Maybe its popularity indicates people don’t want the government micromanaging their mobility.

Meanwhile, legislators in Harrisburg who can’t address the big problems that we face gave us a driving law that takes effect in January. They voted to allow 12-year-olds to drive a golf cart across highways, even if they’re not golfing. Of course, they have to be under the direct supervision of someone who is at least 18 years old.

You can’t make this stuff up. No word yet whether, in the future, computers will put a stop to this.

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