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Will We Surrender Control of Our Cars?

by Roger Lanctot | Jul 21, 2014

There is a spooky statistical confluence in the U.S. between highway fatalities and deaths resulting from gun violence (homicides and suicides, combined). Both figures hover around 30,000, or about 100/day.

And just as the world is treated to the U.S.’s perennial debate over the merits and nature of gun control, the auto industry is now grappling with the question of surrendering vehicle control to a computer. In fact, those socialist-leaning Europeans have even broached the subject of governmental remote control of cars (Telegraph report: http://tinyurl.com/pp4ol27) which actually aligns with Brazil’s delayed anti-theft mandate for vehicle immobilization.

It all reminds me of the late Charlton Heston (pictured, from "Omega Man"), five-term president of the National Rifle Association (1998-2003), who made famous the bumper sticker slogan “from my cold dead hands” as in "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands."

It appears that cars are second only to guns as a symbol of freedom and control - at least in the U.S. When surveyed by Strategy Analytics, only a minority of respondents express interest in owning or paying for self-driving cars. In fact, the paying for part will probably be the greatest obstacle as the price tag for autonomous driving is likely to remain in the thousands of dollars for the foreseeable future.

Pair the high cost with the inclination of consumers to preserve their access to freedom and control and you have two solid nearly impenetrable barriers to autonomous vehicle adoption. The U.S. consumer is essentially saying a la Charlton Heston – “you’ll get the steering wheel when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

And now Google wants to take away the steering wheel and the brake pedals (New York Times report: http://tinyurl.com/o89oj7f).

So whether it’s the government (and not just the U.S. government) or Google, more and more organizations are interested in wresting control of the car away from the driver. This is aside from the plans being laid for “intelligent” highways that will take control of cars and the wave of interest growing in pay-per-use vehicle taxation.

But drivers can be expected to fight for their rights.

Call it an aphrodisiac. Call it a hallucinogen. Whatever you call it, the driving experience is intoxicating and drivers can be expected to fight to preserve their freedom from control. (Just imagine Germany surrendering its Autobahn network, nein!) Getting drivers to change their behavior and attitudes will require some sophisticated combination of coercion and temptation – even after the technology becomes sufficiently inexpensive. One thing is clear, we won’t surrender meekly.

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