Swickard: Getting home safely in self-driving cars

© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  “Baseball is like driving, it’s the one who gets home safely that counts.” Tommy Lasorda
            This last weekend there was a car accident which involved a self-driving vehicle. The media had a great visual of this car on its side. To our way of thinking that is never supposed to happen. It’s a self-driving car which should be programmed to stay out of accidents.
            The good news is that it wasn’t the self-driving car’s fault. But the car ended up on its side. That is never good. Seems the car ended up on its side after someone, a human, not another self-driving car, didn’t yield when it was a yield situation.
            Are we to assume self-driving cars are not going to get into accidents? Of course they will have accidents because they are out there with all of us humans. Regardless of the fact that self-driving cars will not be texting or talking to a spouse, the human other drivers do.
            Like Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda observed, it is the one who get home safely that counts both in the game of baseball and driving. When I took a defensive driving course the mantra was to arrive safely despite the actions of others. Even if you are a self-driving car.
            Imagine how hard it would be to sit in a self-driving car as it gets into an accident. What can you say since there is no one else in the car? In a regularly driven car you might resort to colorful language for a driver that gets you into an accident but if you are the only one in the car the best you can say is, “Shuckins!”
            Obviously, some statistician can point out that you will be many times safer if a knucklehead isn’t driving but there is that media picture of a self-driving car on its side to consider. And if you think that the self-driving car is doing something wrong, what can you do other than gasp?
            One time I was in a commercial jet taking off from Dallas when as we were heading onto the runway I noticed that the pilot had not engaged the flaps. Normally to take off or land the flaps are extended. Someone traveling with me noticed I was agitated.
            I mentioned the flaps to which this person just shrugged. Then the pilot announced, “Most times we use flaps to take off but for you pilots there are a few times when we have a no-flaps takeoff. This is one of those times.” I went whew.
            So, it may take a bit of trust to ride in self-driving cars, especially in traffic with the usual amount of human knuckleheads. I guess we could get used to it or perhaps some of us never will. It could be that we can consider what Will Rogers wrote, “When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.”



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