Piece of Mind: Warming to the idea of self-driving cars

Have you seen the flurry of news reports about our governor signing into law Tuesday a bill that will allow testing of autonomous cars? The control freak in me, the one who also happens to love to be behind the wheel of a car, finds it slightly disturbing that we’re moving into an age when our vehicles will handle all the details we drivers are so accustomed of dealing with — steering and braking among them. But the futurist that lurks inside sees all kinds of wonderful possibilities with the technology, including video cameras, sensors and artificial-intelligence software that will be used on these chariots.

Once all the refinements are made and production of these vehicles is commonplace, seniors and disabled people will no longer have to be at the mercy of drivers to ferry them around. Instead, they’ll be able to just climb into their autonomous cars and be off to the grocery store, medical appointments, lunch dates, you name it. These autonomous vehicles will handle everything, including parking chores, although I’m not sure what happens if one such car tries to beat another to an open space. Will they honk at each other? Or send laser death rays?

Anyway, it is kind of exciting to think of the ways self-driving cars might vastly improve our quality of life. Maybe moms and dads won’t feel so harried if the autonomous cars can one day take over the job of getting their kidlets to campus. Just toss the children in, wave goodbye, and let the car return to the garage when the task is completed. Might this new development lead to a day when we don’t have to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, ever, because driver’s licenses will be abolished? Sounds good to me.

The criminals might not find the technology to be a boon to their business. It’s my understanding that streets, particularly at intersections, will have sensors that will control traffic flow. Signals will be unnecessary. Will robbers have a more difficult time making clean getaways if these autonomous cars all flow together at one pace?

And, will tickets for driving under the influence be eliminated? I’m just thinking out loud here.

There will also be some who will balk at the newfangled mode of transportation. Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged this. He was quoted by CNN this week as saying, “Anybody who first gets in the car and finds the car is driving will be a little skittish. But they’ll get over it.”

Well, yes, I believe that is true. It reminded me a little of a conversation I once had with a woman who had been born at the turn of the last century. Her family lived on a ranch in Texas, she told me, and everyone was delighted when the patriarch came home one day with their first automobile. Kids piled in with their father and he took off down a pasture at whatever top speed the car offered. According to her tale, which may well have been apocryphal (judging by the twinkle in her eye as she related it), the excitement of the ride got to be too much. She said her dad had a moment of brain fade and couldn’t remember how to stop. With panic in his voice, he yelled, “Whoa!” to no effect. It was only after the new car struck some immovable object that it came to a halt.

I hope the road sensors installed for the promised self-driving cars will include remote byways, such as our own blood alley, Angeles Crest Highway, and that motorcycles and even bicycles will also have some sort of sensors that will keep them from colliding with each other. Picture yourself taking a leisurely ride up into the San Gabriels in your self-driving car without having to brace at every curve, wondering if you’re going to encounter a body thrown in your general direction from the force of a bike accident. You could instead count the blooming yuccas, admire the vistas and, perhaps unfold the picnic basket and sink your teeth into one of Berge’s sandwiches, all while rolling down the highway, blissfully unconcerned. I’m warming to this whole idea. How about you?

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. Email her at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World