Vehicles that accelerate, brake and park themselves. Lane markers that keep cars on the straight and narrow. Children alone in a car that drives itself. No more accidents from fatigue, drunkenness or distraction.
Even in the presence of technology that would allow every American to watch C-SPAN on the road, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee didn't know what to make of the Brave New World seminar on driverless cars on Tuesday.
“I envision the day we'll have these vehicles, like the Flintstones, or something,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. Nevada Democrat Dina Titus provided him with a verbal poke: Didn't he mean the the Jetsons? Ah, yes, Cohen replied: “Who? The Jetsons? Yeah, that's the opposite.”
Cohen then showed that something driverless can keep moving. “I got a ticket — and I went to court on it, which was a mistake, I guess, for parking more than 12 inches from the curb, which I didn't know was even the law. And I don't think I did it. The car's going to know 12 inches? I mean, how's the car going to know the Memphis city code?”
New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires and Illinois Republican Rodney Davis saw a similar problem but from opposite ends. Davis worries that the autonomous car industry will overlook rural drivers. Sires wonders if the industry is too optimistic about urban areas.
“It’s hard for me to fathom a car in New York City being without a driver,” Sires said. This worry conjures up questions about whether these cars can scream obscenities without human assistance. Or what amount of body damage will an autonomous taxi consider acceptable to cross three lanes of traffic to pick up a fare?
“I used to have a ’65 Mustang that I did a lot of work on,” Sires said, taking the path of greatest nostalgia to another point, about the loss of backyard tinkering. “I can’t imagine anybody doing any work on these cars that are so sophisticated. I think it’s just going to put people out of work.”
Texas Republican Roger Williams, a car dealer no less, may know something about the market that advocates of autonomous cars overlooked. “Something like this is going to have to be able pull a horse trailer,” he said.
— Publius Valerius Publicola