Jesus Don't Take the Wheel

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Jul 27, 2016

I want to drive my own car. I have no desire to let computers and sensors make a decision on the line my car should take on the way to my destination. You can argue that computers and sensors are already in control of the management of the engine and other onboard systems, but I am still steering and braking. I would like to keep it that way.

The recent tragedy involving a Tesla in Florida brings this topic to mind but I am not writing to criticize the technology. I know very little about the nuts and bolts of the system, or should I say, the lack of nuts and bolts in the technology. I am basing my opinion on the fact that I know enough about human beings behind the wheel that I do not believe this is a good idea. Not even for a short stint of, “mascara time.” I should stop using it anyway. It does irritate.

Not pictured: Our blogger, Tim.

It is apparent that the driver of that car did not follow manufacturer’s instructions that both hands remain on the wheel so that the driver can take over for the program if it becomes necessary. Even keeping a knee on the wheel would be far better than letting go entirely. I am not endorsing using a knee to do the job of your hands, but it certainly would be better than complete disengagement from the process.

Knee driving is an art that I was able to learn about while cruising along with my dad in each one of his many, many Chevrolets. Interestingly enough, my dad's name is Art. Coincidence? I think not.

Proper knee driving position: Patellas on the wheel at 7 o'clock and 5 o'clock. Note: Car Talk does not endorse steering by knees, teeth, or telepathy. (By junkmonkey via Flickr. CC 2.0)

Dad held several jobs; he was a minister as well as an insurance salesman. The insurance sales paid the bills that the church could not. As I get older, I realize that my dad had all the bases covered. Prayer was good, but why not guarantee that you will be able to collect a pittance for your injury in case the prayer did not take. “God works in mysterious ways” was not a sales pitch as much as it was the truth when you fell off the ladder.

One such blessing of this arrangement was that you could contact your clergy and claims manager in the same phone call.

The visit from your minister could include a claims check as well as an opportunity to renew your policy.

"The visit from your minister could include a claims check as well as an opportunity to renew your policy." (By Joseph Novak, CC 2.0)

I was able to go with him on occasion and wait in the car during sales calls. There was no air conditioning in our cars so the windows were rolled down, and Pop always left the key in the ignition so that I could be entertained by the AM Delco. Audiovox FM converters came much later. I used to watch my father avoid angry dogs and angry people. He would sometimes end up bringing fresh baked cookies back to the car for the kid that was either sweating or freezing (in the case of Christmas vacation sales trips). I made sure that I would be visible to anyone in the house by putting on my famished face. It worked from time to time.

Pro tip: Trapped in the car while your parents make sales calls or run errands? Try this. (By nottsexminer - Carrion Crow Nest CC BY-SA 2.0)

Between stops, fast food was the chosen fare and Art could pound a quarter pounder and eat fries with a fluidity which I could never imitate. He could steer with his left knee while smoothly operating the brake and gas pedal with the illusion that he was using his hands. Well, he was using his hands but not for steering.  No Cokes were spilled in making of my summer days riding through the back roads of Maine.

I became a darn good knee driver as time went on. It is doubtful that the next generation of programming will urge the operator to keep one knee on the wheel at all times when the self-driving mode is engaged, but it seems like it is a better arrangement than the complete disconnection from the process of driving a car.

"As a long-time cop and first time blogger, I can tell you some stories. People have a way of wrecking everything. Including their automobiles."

The slippery slope of self-driving cars is that humans always take it to the next level. As a long-time cop and first-time blogger, I can tell you some stories. People have a way of wrecking everything. Including their automobiles.

Placing the car in auto-pilot to eat a sandwich seems like a reasonable use for the system. However, eating a sandwich will give way to making a sandwich. It won't be long before drivers will want to make a loaf of bread. Possibly churning their own butter on straight stretches.

If they didn't want us to make butter while we drive, they wouldn't make travel sized churns. (By Joe.kacmarynski - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The motor vehicle operators who read books, newspapers and magazines while driving will become writers. This will lead to a craze in mobile publishing ventures. Meetings over the latest manuscript will take place in the back seat. Fresh bread will be served.

The concept is wonderful, but give a driver the ability to totally relax behind the wheel and they will. Things could get worse if the technology makes its way to other cars.
Live reviews of automobiles done by drivers (who should be driving) will hit the Facebook feeds. Other drivers will be watching them, hitting likes, hearts and angry face emojis while they take a break from the daily commute. Chaos will ensue.

The game of punch-buggy will become a contact sport with the driver being fully involved. Outweighing the offspring by a good one hundred pounds will make the simple, time tested game of just passing time into a painful proposition. When Dad comes over the front-seat head-rest and throws junior into a headlock after passing a green 1975 Super Beetle, injuries are going to occur. The car will probably be fine for a few minutes, but if junior goes for the salt-in-eyes trick, the driver will be immobilized until an eyewash station can be located.

"When dad comes over the front-seat head-rest and throws junior into a headlock after passing a green 1975 Super Beetle, injuries are going to occur." (By Mr.choppers - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The couple that is headed for the drive-theater will be inclined to avoid the double-feature and just engage the self-drive mode. Letting the car travel to a selected destination will violate distracted driving laws for both the occupants and those that encounter the couple at red lights. This will cause parents with younger children to explain the ongoing situation taking place inside the car located in the left-turn-only lane. The law of unintended consequences is an evil mistress. Shield your eyes, children. Look away.

What about families that are driving to Florida for their dream vacations at Disney? If Dad or Mom sets the self-driving mode to take them to International Drive in Orlando, how are the kids ever going to live through the disappointment of passing by the land of plastic lizards and fireworks at South of the Border? The effect on the economy will be devastating.

Setting the auto-pilot to speed past tourist traps seems like a good idea... But what will happen to the lizard tchotchke industry? (By Fuzzy Gerdes, CC 2.0)

There are so many tasks that I willingly will give up. Raking leaves. Washing dishes. Mowing the lawn. Shaving.

Where are the great minds that should be focusing on a lawnmower that will do the entire lawn without my involvement? Doesn't that seem like a better place to start? Safeguards would need to be in place, of course. There are many places the technology should be focused before putting other motorists’ safety at risk.

Arguments can be made that this type of technology has and is being used in air travel. I can see that. But the skies above us, as busy as they are, are wide open spaces with people on the ground watching each aircraft quite carefully. It is a different set of circumstances.

Cars are subject to pedestrians, potholes and obstacles that can enter the chosen path in an instant. Additionally, who do you charge with operating under the influence if the driver has imbibed a little too much? I suppose when they realize the blue lights are behind them, they will need to engage in the driving process in order to pull over for their field sobriety testing.

Defense attorneys will still make billions as they pummel the cop on the stand with questions like; Did you see him/her driving before you stopped the vehicle? Do you know for sure that my client was not ACTUALLY driving the car when you stopped it? The list of issues could go on forever.

Who's driving this thing, anyway? (By Flckr user jurvetson (Steve Jurvetson). CC BY-SA 2.0)

I like the process of driving a car. I want to make decisions and I want those decisions to be based on what I see in front of me. The weather conditions. The potholes in the asphalt. The volume of traffic.

I like the feeling of my heart rate rising when I am surprised by lane-changing morons and jackasses that brake at the last moment. If I am going to crash, I want to have some input just prior to impact. Give me the chance for a last ditch effort to save myself from a catastrophe. Let me have the experience of the sole of my Red Wings slamming down the middle pedal as if it might make a difference in the outcome. I like that.

Plus, my dad prays for me daily and he has given me a great rate on my accident policy.

Somebody get to work on that lawnmower idea. I am available for beta testing.


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