Driverless cars already are here
The show-stopper at the big Las Vegas consumer electronics show going on this week is a "self-driving car."
This is a great breakthrough for Hawaii where no cars seem to actually have drivers. Just yesterday I stopped behind a car that had stopped to let a man cross one of those midblock crosswalks. A car in the next lane over almost knocked the poor pedestrian all the way to Molokai. The person in the offending vehicle -- the individual in the left-hand front seat sometimes ironically referred to as "the driver" -- wasn't actually driving. That person was talking on a cell phone. So since she wasn't driving, she didn't notice that someone was walking in the crosswalk and almost plowed into him. When I saw her bearing down on the soon-to-be deceased person, I began honking my horn and slid my truck over into her lane to block her from blowing through the crosswalk and sending this fellow to his maker. She screeched to a stop but NEVER STOPPED TALKING ON THE PHONE!
So since we can't have any old-fashioned "driver-driven cars," then the idea of "self-driving cars" is a good one. (I would like to restate my objection to those midblock crosswalks, which, because they don't come with stop signs or stop lights, seem to be more "old people bait" than anything else. They seem to put bus stops right at these midblock crosswalks just to further entice our senior citizens into traffic.)
Self-driving cars depend on computers, GPS, radar, sensors and, I suspect, voodoo to navigate without interference by someone in the driver's seat talking on a cell phone or eating a plate lunch. There are still a few kinks to be worked out in the technology. For instance, in a recent test involving 35 "self-driving cars," one crashed into a building, and another parked itself in a random homeowner's garage. (It would have been great if the self-driving car crashed into a cell phone business. It would have been like a pre-emptive strike. And it must be weird to see an unmanned car park itself in your garage. "Uh, honey, did you order something off the Internet again?")
Engineers say that once self-driving cars are the norm, roads will be safer and commutes will be faster. (Especially if you are commuting to randomly selected garages.) The new technology essentially is removing the weakest link from the whole car-driving experience: humans. So many other things would run much better if we could just get all those pesky humans out of the way, like grocery store checkout lines and the U.S. Postal Service. (If it wasn't for all that human-generated mail, the post office would run great.)
Of course, the next step for driverless cars will be passengerless cars. Having cars without drivers or passengers certainly will make the highways a lot safer. I see a great future where we all work at home and our cars just take off and visit each other's garages.
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
at any book retailer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org