Pilot Your Auto!

I’m tired of everyone with any political power or editorial readership espousing the idea that we can make any and all activities that any person embarks on safe not only for all around us, but for ourselves. The world is a dangerous place. It’s much less dangerous than ever, but our minds still see the danger at every turn, only now, we won’t accept any risk.

This hit me today with the rash of anti-Tesla “autopilot” articles pasted across the internet. It started as a call to force Tesla to turn the feature off for all Tesla drivers after ONE fatal accident, in which a driver was killed when the car failed to brake and drove into a semi crossing in front of it…wait for it…while he was watching a Harry Potter movie instead of driving (might I suggest listening to something instead – a Podcast, perhaps?). For those that don’t know, the “autopilot” is really just a combination of adaptive cruise control, which will keep your car going at the speed of the flow of traffic, plus lane assist, which keeps you from veering out of your lane. You are required to continue piloting the vehicle.

Consumer Reports piled on today, saying the name “autopilot” was confusing to drivers, and in some half-hearted attempt to find a middle ground, called on Tesla to change the name. If you have $85,000 to spend and 18 months to wait for your car to be delivered, I think you should be expected to read the fucking manual. Or watch the youtube video, while seated comfortably at home and not out not driving your car. And if you kill yourself because you didn’t, well, sorry, but I don’t miss you. And neither does the gene pool.

But, then the chorus of saving innocent lives rises up. Because, inevitably one of these rich morons is going to mow somebody down whose only crimes were jaywalking and bad depth perception. And we must avoid this AT ALL COSTS, “they” will tell you. I think if we make it plainly clear to people with driver assist features that not continuing to actively “drive” with the features turned on can lead to a murder charge, maybe they’ll wake up in the driver’s seat. It is absolutely impossible to make our roads 100% safe. But you know what has greatly improved safety, particularly on highways, where crashes at higher speeds lead to more deaths? That’s right – driver assist features.

So while the whole country freaks out about one “autopilot” death, and one other minor “autopilot” accident in Teslas over the last two months, more than 5,500 other fatal automobile accidents occurred. How many more were avoided because a drowsy driver had his lane assist on and the car righted itself within it’s lane? Impossible to calculate, but if it’s one, we’re doing better. And, how many of the 5,500+ fatal accidents may have been prevented by one or a combination of these features? I would be willing to bet that many, if not most, could be avoided.

These features are a giant leap forward in technology that is scaring Luddites. Many of the same people that will tell you the science is in on their favorite pet political issue can’t understand the basic math of statistics that backs progressing technology towards the option of driver-less cars. Did you hear the outrage when a Google self-driving test car got into a minor accident with a bus a few weeks back? People were apoplectic. It was ONE accident. People drive into the sides of buses every four and a half minutes in this country* (*all stats with an asterisk made up by the author). The piece people can’t seem to wrap their heads around is who to blame for a robotic mistake. For the time being it’s pretty easy – you must drive your car, be awake, and not be watching Harry Fucking Potter – I mean, you have to be over 16 to drive, so shouldn’t that remove the Potter Effect anyway? Therefore, the driver is still accountable. In the future, we are going to have to accept that the old adage “accidents do happen” is an old adage for a reason, because it’s true, and at least we will only have to cope with a slight percentage of highway traffic fatalities with no idea who to blame instead of the 32,675 that were most certainly caused by people in 2014.

This constant state of fear that the leaders of this country (political and thought leaders) are promoting is useful to them to seem important, or to yell and scream at “corporate America” about for extra clicks. But it has no basis in reality. It has reared it’s ugly head into a way that is limiting your freedoms (see Uber, AirBnB and the rants I have to come on those topics), but now, more importantly, it is inadvertently (or maybe intentionally, if you think these people have evil ulterior motives) making you less safe than you could be.

If I have to hear one more politician say something like “we need time to take a longer look at {blank} and study the further effects of this technology before we can recommend blah, blah, blah and blah restrictions that will put off progress for many, many years and pretty much make the service it provides unaffordable and render the societal and personal benefits null and void, in the interest of your safety,” I’m going to puke.

Embrace technology. Err on the side of progress. Drive your car. Stop Watching Harry Potter (not just in your car – everywhere; really, just enough already).

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