Government-Mandated Autonomous Cars: Science Fiction Or Coming Soon?

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Volkswagen Temporary Auto Pilot in action

Volkswagen Temporary Auto Pilot in action

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The idea of an iRobot (the movie, not the book)-like future where only the renegades drive their own cars may be fast approaching. BMW's i range of cars offers some ready-for-prime-time autonomy, and VW's recent Auto Pilot demo shows just how close we already are to production driverless cars. Today, talk from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows the agency is very keen on technology that can take the danger out of drivers' hands.

Volvo's City Safety feature, which aims to avoid or minimize the impact of low-speed accidents in urban environments, isn't quite as far-reaching as the VW Auto Pilot system or even BMW's i range technologies. But it could soon see adoption as a mandatory safety feature on all new cars.

NHTSA chief David Strickland, for instance, has pitched the progression of safety from kids riding in adults' laps four or five decades ago to the advanced safety seats, restraint systems, and other common and/or mandatory safety technology our cars now feature as the result of government leadership interacting with safety advocates and the innovators themselves.

With the NHTSA's all-encompassing focus on cutting the injury and mortality statistics of our nation's fleet of cars, we could be looking at the first stepping stone to mandatory self-driving car technology. That, to us, is a sad prospect.

Personal transportation is a practical necessity--most of America has been built around the existence of the automobile. But taking drivers out of the equation, while possibly making the roads safer, takes away all of the joy the freedom of personal transportation engenders.

If America's drivers are so unsafe, why not respond with stricter licensing requirements, better driver education, even mandatory accident avoidance training? With better car handling skills and greater awareness of the dynamics of an out-of-control vehicle, both of which inspire greater awareness of one's surroundings while driving, we could significantly reduce the safety issues without eliminating the fun.

Not that The Fun Suckers care about our enjoyment--but we do. Sound off in the comments below if you are against mandatory technologies that take control of the car out of the drivers' hands--or if you're in support of them. Just bring a new (and good) reason to justify them.

[Automotive News -- sub. req., NHTSA (pdf file)]

 
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