Driverless cars

  • Article by: DALE MCFEATTERS , Scripps Howard News Service
  • Updated: September 27, 2012 - 9:25 PM

Soon, we'll just be along for the ride.

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From left, California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., state Senator Alex Padilla and Google co-founder Sergey Brin stand by a driverless car they arrived in at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. Brown visited Google to sign legislation for driverless cars. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads.

Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press

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Enjoy driving your car now. You may not be doing it much longer. The driverless car is here.

Gov. Jerry Brown has given the go-ahead for self-driving cars on a test basis in California, our largest and most auto-addicted state and incubator of national trends. The caveat is that a human with a license to drive must be in the driver's seat.

The technology for driverless cars is already here -- radar sensors, laser range finders, video, GPS and the computer capacity to pull it altogether. Commutes will be faster and safer because the car can communicate with other cars and traffic monitors, decreasing congestion.

The driverless car does not drink, experience road rage, or get lost in strange neighborhoods, and leaves the titular drivers free to do all the things -- text, eat, primp, talk on the cellphone, gawk at the scenery, use the car's entertainment center -- they would rather do than drive the car.

This all seems blasphemous to anyone who came of age in the 1950s and '60s, but increasingly for young Americans cars are no longer a symbol of freedom, a rite of passage. According to a University of Michigan study, more than 30 percent of Americans ages 17 to 19 do not have a driver's license, up from 12.7 percent in 1983.

And the driverless car is the answer to a problem that has bedeviled auto-safety specialists -- the fast-rising number of accidents caused by distracted driving.

The Wall Street Journal devoted a special report to driverless cars in which writer Dan Neil concluded, "Twenty-five years from now, piloting one's own vehicle will seem weirdly anachronistic and unnecessary, like riding a mule to the mall." At the speed driverless technology is developing, that may be on the conservative side.

It has long been said among automotive engineers that the most unreliable part in a car is the nut behind the wheel. We may finally have solved that problem.

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