Daddy said son
Your gonna drive me to drinkin’
If you don’t stop dragging
That hot rod Lincoln
Charlie Ryan, 1955
Over Christmas I threw caution to the wind and rented one of those e-scooters that we’re seeing all over GNV.
True confession: It was fun. Riding on the Depot Avenue trail I opened that baby up to the max…15 mph. Wind in my hair time.
But then a funny thing happened.
The moment I entered Depot Park, the scooter slowed itself down to a more civilized 9 mph. Thus obliging me to exercise due caution – whether I wanted to or not – in the presence of strolling men, women, children and dogs.
Very clever of the Bird scooter people to come up with that, I thought.
But wait a minute.
When I’m out and about in my Subaru Outback my navigation system very thoughtfully displays a little speed limit sign to let me know how fast I may legally drive. And the instant I go over the posted speed limit, that little symbol turns from white to red.
But unlike that Bird e-scooter, my Outback doesn’t automatically slow me down for safety’s sake.
Why is that, exactly?
Are scooter engineers so much smarter than car engineers that only they can program a machine to automatically perform in a safer, more responsible manner in any given time and place?
I have no doubt that Subaru could program my car to automatically obey speed limits. But why would they?
Doing so would fly in the face of consumer demand for ever faster, ever more powerful motor vehicles. It would cost the company car sales, no question.
Because our need for speed is baked into our DNA. Has been since before “Hot Rod Lincoln.” Since Robert Mitchum outran revenuers on Thunder Road. Since James Dean did his Rebel Without A Cause drag race thing. Since Steve McQueen jumped his Mustang over San Francisco hilltops.
No, the more appropriate question is: Why doesn’t the government, out of concern for the tens of thousands of lives lost every year on public streets and highways, require manufacturers to program their vehicles to obey posted limits?
Yes, I know, that would be an infringement on our personal freedom. Now let’s talk about how that legally mandated odometer infringes on our personal freedom to sell a high mileage car on a low mileage lie.
Listen, we know that speed is a contributing factor, even the biggest contributing factor, to traffic deaths. We know that the faster a vehicle is going when it hits a pedestrian the more likely that pedestrian is to die.
We have the technology to stop speeding if we choose to use it. But we don’t. Most jurisdictions won’t even deploy cameras to catch speeders in the act.
The two word answer is “motor voter.”
Politicians fear that drivers would motor themselves to the polls at the fastest speed possible to vote out the rascals who dare tell them how to drive.
That’s called autoAmerican freedom. And if the price of freedom is 10,000, 20,000….even 40,000 dead Americans a year, then it’s still deemed a culturally acceptable price to pay.
Which is why speed limits are guidelines more than mandates.
It’s why City of Waldo was long branded a speed trap and nationally shamed for committing the atrocity of ticketing each and every speeder it could possibly stop.
No, Waldo cops weren’t trying to protect lives in a small town that has been subdivided by state-engineered high-speed highways. It was all just a greedy scheme to take money from hard-working, hard-driving Americans.
Listen, if it wasn’t for “driver error,” or “distracted pedestrians,” or “irresponsible cyclists,” or “road rage,” we would have no excuses at all for the 38,680 Americans who died in that Year Of our Pandemic, 2020 (News flash: Driving went down, fatalities went up).
If it wasn’t for sovereign immunity, every city in America, and most states, would be bankrupt from having to defend negligence lawsuits contesting “idiot proof,” government-built roads that, by their very design, encourage idiots to drive fast and carelessly.
But back to the technology fix:
Hey, Elon Musk was just. named Time magazine’s Person Of The Year. And why not?
To “fix” America’s traffic problems, Musk wants to build under-city tunnels so cars could move at upwards of 150 mph without having to worry about hitting anybody. (Saw that movie: “Minority Report” depicted future autoAmerican on steroids, Elon).
Hey, you know what else Musk just did? He programmed some of his electric Teslas to give drivers the choice of ambulating in “chill,” “average,” or “assertive” modes.
About that “assertive” mode, Musk.
It, says Streetsblog USA: “will effectively direct the car to tailgate other motorists, perform unsafe passing maneuvers, and roll through certain stops (“average” mode isn’t much safer). All those behaviors are illegal in most U.S. states…”
“Basically, Tesla is programming its cars to break laws,” Phil Koopman, an expert in autonomous vehicle technology and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told Streetsblog. “Even if [those laws] vary from state to state and city to city, these cars knows where they are, and the local laws are clearly published. If you want to build an AV that drives in more than one jurisdiction and you want it to follow the rules, there’s no reason you can’t program it up to do that. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is a trillion-dollar industry we’re talking about.”
Tesla gives its drivers “assertive” choice for the same reason Subaru doesn’t make me slow down for speed limits. Because we all fancy ourselves Steve McQueen or James Dean. And the auto industry exists, above all, to cater to our Hot Rod Lincoln autoAmerican fantasies.
Oh brave new world that has such dangerous technology in it.
We can send billionaires into space. But we can’t protect a 4-year-old boy in east GNV from the deadly consequences of crossing a “neighborhood” street that has been permissively designed to allow commuters to zip to work and back home again as quickly as possible.
Here’s a song for modern day autoAmericans:
Daddy said son
you’re gonna drive me to drinking
if you don’t stop crossing the street
to go to the park.