As much as I enjoy Tim Woodward, we see things from different perches when contemplating the coming era of driverless vehicles. (“Driverless cars set to end American love affair,” Idaho Statesman, April 22). We come from the same era, Tim and me, but when I look back on my vehicle choices — a Mercury Comet 2-speed automatic, Toyota Corona, GMC pickup, Toyota station wagon, Subaru wagon, Honda wagon, GMC Sierra, Ford Windstar and Dodge Grand Caravan — I see choices made on the basis of utility rather than any love for the vehicles.
Oh, I had my fantasies. Once, shifting gears in one of my unsexy utilitarian wagons, the thought popped into my feckless young head that it would be fun driving a Porsche. Thankfully, my next thought re-engaged my pragmatic drive, reminding me that most of my driving was done at 25-35 mph, which any old car can do. I might want to drive a performance vehicle now and then, but I sure did not want to pay for one.
As I grew older, driving grew into something to be loathed, what with the traffic, the widely variable driving patterns of drivers, and the sense that every second spent behind the wheel was a massive waste of time that could be better spent getting some exercise and liking the journey. If enjoyment was a part of driving, I was missing it.
And then there was always the expense. According to a report by the Rand Corporation (Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers), the average auto spends 95 percent of its time doing absolutely nothing. (Well, except for depreciating in value.) Next to a house, few investments cost as much, but who would buy a house you got to use only 18 days a year? Throw in insurance, fuel, tires and other maintenance, and you start to question the sagacity of investing in a vehicle.
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What I really want is transportation, not a vehicle. I want to get from A to B, with as much convenience and economy as possible. I want to be able to summon a ride as easily as I can summon an Uber car, and I want to be able to select a vehicle that meets my needs: a single-seat pod when I go somewhere on my own, or a utility vehicle if I need to haul something. Instead of buying a vehicle that can meet all possible needs, I want to use the vehicle that meets my current need.
So I look forward to seeing roads filled with autonomous vehicles that are communicating with each other (and the infrastructure) to keep traffic flowing smoothly and efficiently. Not that I would plan to commute by auto regularly when biking is so much more fun, but a ride to work in a self-driving car would become an opportunity to catch up on the news or check work email instead of just wasted time.
For me, the love affair with the automobile is about to begin.
Boise’s Dennis Meier is an engineer at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, an adjunct instructor of technical communication at BSU and a dedicated bicycle commuter.