There’s something about the allure of an open road which gives pressing the gas pedal a unique thrill. That feeling is timeless and quintessentially American: it’s what drives the Fast and Furious movies and what motivates Ferris Bueller to steal Cameron’s dad’s priceless Ferrari. That’s why letting a manual car gather dust in the garage might prove difficult for many in the current generation. As a result of that lingering attachment, our democracy just might be seeing federal legislation in the 2050’s encouraging the taxation or even prohibition of manual vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation is seemingly prepared to increase control, saying laws “should be expanded to realize the safety potential of automated vehicles over the next 50 years.”
Beyond that, giving control of transportation to robots probably won’t cause problems, because sentimentality doesn’t last. A kid who has grown up zooming around in a robot car doesn’t want to be bothered with learning the operations of some obsolete and dangerous old machine; most of contemporary America even rejects learning to use a stick shift. Historically, it didn’t take long for Americans to leave their stagecoaches on the curb once Ford introduced the Model T. So when people are once again given the chance to upgrade, it’s plausible to expect that autonomous cars will behave similarly to the Model T in today’s market. People who don’t like the change might not have a choice, since human error would be the one of the biggest hazards left on the road. These manual car enthusiasts will become the hipsters of the future.
If you are still skeptical and are thinking, “Hey, driving is too cool, everyone’s still gonna be curious,” just think of hoop rolling. It was a form of cheap fun that was all the rage from 400 B.C. to the Old West — but, with all the entertainment in the universe on your phone, who the hell wants that? Hoop rolling just isn’t something that you find applicable or relevant to life as you know it. In the future, most of our grandkids will probably think along the same lines with manual vehicles. Some could potentially form communities where manual driving is still the norm, not unlike the Amish, who are still making it work with horses.
Companies such as Google and Tesla have been experimenting with self-driving cars for a few years now. Potentially within a decade of their introduction, Americans will take their hands off the wheel for good. However, don’t get too excited just yet, because preliminary efforts have recently been marred with criticism. A Tesla driving on its “autopilot” feature didn’t register a truck cutting it off — resulting in the death of the driver, and many overtly critical voices. It is a situation that the current emergency braking systems aren’t able to handle, which the driver clearly did not comprehend. Honestly who could blame the poor guy for not knowing? Turns out many of these errors stem from the camera’s inability to detect the color white. This tragedy was not an isolated incident; lack of color has been responsible for other automated collisions. Sources like Scientific American deem the crashes wake-up calls, exposing “ignorance of the technology’s limitations.” I agree — in early stages of any new technology, it’s crucial to remain vigilant until the bots have reached total independence.
Audi and Nvidia are remaining confident, however, because they recently announced they will produce autonomous cars as soon as 2020. Also, if you’re ever in Michigan seven years from now, you might be sharing the road with fleets of autonomous vehicles. They’re called “Platoons,” and they’d essentially be trucks without drivers. Get ready for things to change, because once people think the grass is greener, they’ll be eager to take their feet off the pedal.
Jon Jennings is a College junior from Chicago, Ill.