Am I Psychic Or Just Ruthlessly Realistic?
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
In the trove of Old Blogs, there are things I wrote during the Obama Administration. Quite a few of them. I'll be adding them to the blog under "Am I Psychic Or Just Ruthlessly Realistic?" rubric from time to time, because nothing I said then was ridiculous or unforeseeable or overreacting or hypersensitive or <steps back, makes florid invitation gesture> insert your favorite SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP I DON'T WANT TO LOOK AT THAT UGLY THING silencing statement here.
The following is an Ugly Thing I wrote in response to an Ugly Thing. The blog home -- which really had been a home -- was being monetized. And now there was an "open call," to write about "sustainability," sponsored by a mid-luxury automobile brand. I. Was. ANGRY. We were writers and artists, all, and this was the very first experiment with "But Think Of The Exposure!" on a mass scale. Write for us for free, said the corporation. It's a game, a contest. No, you won't win a car. You get recognition! Are you good enough? Can you jump through enough hoops to get a gold star from Daddy on this totally free social media site? Can you make our product sound like it's feeding starving children too? KTHXBAI TL;DR: Do not give your hours of life and labor away for any reason. Especially because somebody said "I DARE YOU." When I get angry, I channel Athena with her sword out, blazing. Commerce wanted us to write content. For free. To sell cars. CARS.
As something sustainable.
And so I give you, reproduced in its entirety including comments from others who are still my friends to this day online:
FEBRUARY 8, 2009 5:36PM Moving Through Tomorrowland RATE: 53
I was the only person home that Friday night. So I was the one to pick up the ringing phone, and it was the call from halfway across the country, about my brother. I then had to track down Mom (who'd left just a few hours earlier for a romantic getaway at Big Bear...but I didn't know which resort, and this was pre-internet and long-distance charges applied, my friends). I managed, with the help of a patient telephone operator who connected me to resort after resort, in sequence, until I found the one where she was staying. I had to hold it together long enough to tell her I'm sorry Mom I'm sorry for having to call you and interrupt you but mom is there someplace in the room you can sit down maybe the bed ok Mom are you sitting on the bed now? And then I had to tell her that her only living (at least until that night) son was dead. That a country road and darkness and reunion elation and speed and giddiness had somehow culminated with two boys flipping diagonally end-over-end, two-and-a-half-times, partially airborne from the looks of the marks in the road and the fields, landing three times, hard on the passenger's side. Mom's first son had died twenty years earlier, just hours after he was born. They were both named David.
-- Who does not fondly remember the Peoplemover at Disneyland? (People under 45, that's who)
Initially installed in the sixties as a legitimate conceptual prototype for a system that could enhance urban mobility and safety, the Peoplemover was an attraction not to be missed (it was, sadly, finally dismantled in 1996). Ultimately, the Peoplemover made no more impact on urban mobility than the much-ballyhooed Segway did. More's the pity. It was definitely one small demonstration of a sustainable mobility technology.
The best thing about the Peoplemover was that it welcomed passengers to sit, to look around, to point, to absorb the sights and sounds of Tomorrowland. To enjoy the process of moving from one place to another, via others. You got onto the Peoplemover to move. You never thought about the possibility of dying. Because you were not the one operating the vehicle. You were a passenger. You weren't in charge of acceleration, speed, merges, exits, entrances, braking. You were simply on board to get someplace. Technology took care of the rest.
Can any form of mobility be considered "sustainable" if it does not, first and foremost, sustain the lives and health of the people it's designed to move?
Cars, Roads, and Human Sacrifice In 1869, Mary Ward (42), a pioneering Irish scientist, died of a broken neck after she was thrown from her cousins' home-built experimental steam automobile. She became, in that moment, the first known automobile accident fatality. In the 140 years since her death, we humans have grown frighteningly used to the idea of human sacrifice. We've tacitly agreed that death, disability, dismemberment, and damage are natural and acceptable tradeoffs for mobility.
(all numbers from original post date) 1.2 million people die each year in what the World Health Organization calls "road crashes" (a term deliberately chosen to emphasize that there are very few automobile crashes that are truly "accidents.") Between 20 and 50 million more are injured annually.
It's as though our roaring cars and trucks and SUVs aren't just thirsty for gasoline and diesel. They also seem to want blood. And up to now, they've gotten it.
Here's an interesting graphic.
(site no longer exists)
Those numbers can be a bit hard to grasp. Think of it this way: Every day, around the world, 3,500 family members get that phonecall. The phonecall that says their loved one, who just an hour or two ago kissed somebody on the cheek, or stormed out in a huff, or ran out for a gallon of milk, or left early for work, is now a small pile of mangled, cooling meat. Drivers Not Wanted
Human population centers being what they are (already established and fundamentally unchangeable, disparate in design, with little available land for building more sensible mass transit systems like light rail and shuttles), I am willing to concede that the car will be with us forever.
Drivers, on the other hand, need to go. The sooner the better.
Our friend Wikipedia tells us, "A 1985 report based on British and American crash data, found that driver error, intoxication and other human factors contribute wholly or partially to about 93% of crashes." Those 93% of crashes are now (or soon will be) completely avoidable.
The confluence of technologies like radar, lasers, global positioning systems, and ever-cheaper computers--once commercialized--add up to finally living out the dream of the Peoplemover: Getting where we need to go passively, safely, efficiently, and automatically, with very little reason to fear injury or death.
Thanks to those technologies and the American government's desire to find better means of mobilizing military ordnance and supplies, several global teams are working to create and commercialize the world's first autonomous, self-driving car.
Look how close we are.
"The Boss" Navigates The DARPA Test Course, Oct. 2008 There is no human in "The Boss." Nobody sending signals. Nobody with a remote control. The Boss is driving itself.
Almost as much fun as the Peoplemover, humming through Space Mountain. Imagine:
Travelling without a care through city streets and highways full of optimally flowing traffic, self-piloted and self-regulated by the vehicles themselves
Getting into your (alternative fuel-powered) car...
Punching your destination into the onboard GPS...
Sitting back while the car takes over
Finding the best route for the trip on this day, at this time, based on wireless access to real-time highway congestion data
Backing out of your driveway on its own...
Braking when it senses the protruding nose of a neighbor's puppy behind the left rear wheel...
Moving you through your commute, whatever that may be, while you read, or nap, or use your Kindle 2.0 to browse OS
Arriving at your destination
Smiling as the car (not you) deals with a particulaly sticky parallel-parking situation
There are already cars available on the market that use some of the collision-avoidance technologies displayed above in The Boss, as well as "smart" cruise control (which adapts your speed to the vehicle in front of you) and self-parking. Put it all together with active navigation and I can envision the end of road rage; the end of drunk driving; the end of aggressive tailgating; the end of teenage delusions of immortality. I can envision 1 million warm humans each year, still alive. Now that's sustainable.
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Type your comment below: Cancel I realize this vision of Ultimate Sustainable Mobility is anathema to a particular breed of American driver, who equates the ability to get behind the wheel and do whatever he wants with FREEDOM, man! Honestly? That's exactly the kind of driver who should be forced to purchase the first generation of autonomous vehicles. And that's the kind of driver whose opinion about this matter I really don't give any weight. At all. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:37 PM
Having a teenaged girl who just got into a car, again, with friends, I hear you. Lisa Solod Warren FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:52 PM Cannot imagine being a parent during those years, Lisa. (Well, OK, any years, but especially the teenage years.) Good wishes. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:55 PM Beautiful, Verbal Remedy, and so sad about your brother, for you and for your mother. I'm looking forward to the arrival of these self-driving cars. Rated. Pat Davis FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:56 PM Remember the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper"? Of the many futuristic "inventions" in that world, one was the driveless pod car that followed some sort of magnetic track. I'll tell you, after more than 35 years behind the wheel, I'd gladly give it up--except, maybe, for the go-kart track. Interesting post. Hope you win. james poyner FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:58 PM What a tough phone call to receive, and then have to call your mother. It's almost a sad cliche, when young folks get killed in a car around here, what with the country roads that teens love to speed on, feeling invulnerable. I'll all for passive transportation. I am so sick of tailgaters, I do the one one thousand thing to stay back of the car ahead of me, it's all I can control. But it seems as soon as I shake off one tailgater by slowing down, another takes their place. I'm wondering if its the herd mentality thing going, or the "nature abhors a vacuum" thing. Good post. Rated. DakiniDancer FEBRUARY 08, 2009 05:58 PM You've really showcased the human element here, Verbal. I was thinking about traffic accidents today, in one of these mobility discussions, and I wondered how much good our infrastructure (e.g., road markings and guard rails), regulations (e.g., license requirements and speed limits), and technology (e.g., ABS and airbags) do us. I still don't know, but the statistics you show are sobering--the magnitude of the numbers that we somehow manage to ignore, year after year. If we could do something about it... I love your vision of the future. It's not NASCAR, as you say, but it's still really appealing. Rob St. Amant FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:01 PM Thx, all. I've been struggling with this question for a week. I've been drafting and un-drafting and revising and cutting and throwing up my hands saying "I can't do this" for at least five days. I appreciate your reading and commenting more than you know. Be safe out there. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:07 PM I'm so with you on this. And so sorry for such a horrible loss. Every parent's nightmare once kids start driving. And you told it so chillingly. God, how does your mother manage? Ah, she has you. So true, those are the drivers who need Ultimate Sustainable Mobility. Let's get it soon, k. Sally Swift FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:09 PM An epic post. My heart goes to you and your mother...a mother who has lost two (that I know of). Very tragic. I have a family experience of losing someone in a car accident due to the very real "road rage". Here is where technology is potentially life saving. "Avoid collision" devices...I think everyone would welcome this. Excellent post. marytkelly FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:10 PM Well done D. I hope this wins it, thus far. I thought Jon's piece was a clear winner last week, and he won. I like this creative thinking. (rated) Greg Thomas FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:11 PM Ever since I was little, I fantasized about self-driving cars. (Now that I think about it, maybe the Peoplemover had something to do with it.) One day ... one day. AnniThyme FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:11 PM Great piece, as always VR. You kicked me in the gut with that opening...I am very sorry to hear this happened to you and your family. Your loss gives you a unique perspective on the topic and I like that (though I don't know how) you were able to take such a studied approach to the solutions. Convincing argument wrapped in nostalgia - a winner! I do believe there is a way for your solution to co-exist with what American freedom drivers enjoy today. Urban markets like New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are so choked by traffic that a case could be made for city governments curtailing at-will automobile driving inside their boundaries during peak periods in favor of mass transit. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg is exploring a variation of this idea in NYC. By using a "carrot and stick" approach (an intelligent mix of incentives and penalties tied to individual and group transportation activities), our worst traffic cities could clear roads, cut greenhouse emissions and...hey, how about this....save lives! American's value freedom and choice. By offering both local governments could make it possible for consumers to choose "Ultimate Sustainable Mobility" or FREEDOM based on their needs, wants or means. Thanks again for another well-written mind-stirrer Verbal. Joe Cantwell FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:15 PM this is an excellent post, Verbal, worth the extra time you put into it, and made especially compelling by the personal stroy you lead with. Roy Jimenez FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:21 PM I've been drafting and un-drafting and revising and cutting and throwing up my hands saying "I can't do this" for at least five days.You did it. If my getting a sad shiver on reading the opening paragraphs is any indication. Rob St. Amant FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:26 PM What Rob said---this is just stunning. Chicago Guy FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:41 PM I'm all for the smart cruise control. Years ago, while traveling I-45 from Dallas to Houston at night (a very boring drive any time of day), my daughter's car was hit by a car "driven" by a woman who had fallen asleep with the cruise control on. I never really did understand this accident, actually. No one was hurt. But it would have been avoided by the smart cruise control. Julie Delio FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:42 PM Wow. I've never thought this through in quite this way before. Thank you. And so sorry about your brothers. SeattleK8 FEBRUARY 08, 2009 06:49 PM Interesting concept ... any sense of the cost involved, VR? At least part of the explanation for the higher traffic fatality rates in India and Africa has to do with the quality of the roads and traffic control devices there, or, more accurately, not there. There are entire countries in Africa that have no stop lights. Charlie Redmond FEBRUARY 08, 2009 07:04 PM Horrendous experience VR, I'm so sorry for the losses suffered by you and your family. Techonogy has taked us to astounding levels of comfort and convenience and yes, safety. But clearly we're not there yet when it comes to protecting us from ourselves. When I think of the cars my parents drove me around in as a child compared to the cars I drive my daughter in now, its like comparing a paper airplane to an F-18. Let's hope techonology can save us from technology. Smithery FEBRUARY 08, 2009 07:19 PM Hmmm...and the end of teenagers getting into accidents and racking up speeding tickets? I could get behind this idea, Verbal. By the way, I really appreciate the professional appearance of your posts. Your visuals and bullet-points are always the best. Lisa Kern FEBRUARY 08, 2009 08:28 PM Wonderful post. Thank you for taking your personal pain and channeling it in such a productive way. I completely agree with your thoughts. But then I've taken public transit for most of my adult life to work, even though I also have owned a car. I try to drive as little as I can. And I'm fully aware that the most dangerous thing I do in my life is to get into my car and drive anywhere. I'm always astounded at how many people have fear of flying vs. fear of driving. Statistically it's laughable. But even worse is that so few adults have fear of driving and so continue to do dangerous things such as drink and drive, or its statistical equivalent, talk on a cell phone (even hands free) and drive. I can't tell you how many times I've almost been hit by cell drivers in the past several years -- only my own (cell-less) vigilance saved me. So, yes, the more we can do to get people from driving, the better. and...I loved the People Mover at Disneyland! Not to mention the Monorail, which I think is still there. Silkstone FEBRUARY 08, 2009 09:14 PM Outstanding post! I'm so sorry about your brother. I lost my mom in a car crash. I totally support everything you said. outrider FEBRUARY 08, 2009 09:26 PM I'm sorry about your brother. There's a spot just next to my parents' farm where six kids were killed some years ago. They were apparently not drinking, just driving far too fast and laughing and being silly. My parents were on vacation and I was the one who walked out to see what the bang was. It was a spot where many many people had previously driven off the road; the landowner had done everything in his power to make things better, including petitioning for a stop sign and putting up a giant reflective barrier. The kids ran the stop sign and drove into the barrier. While I waited for the helicopters I was cursing human stupidity, because it really took an effort to run off the road there, you had to try to be stupid. And they were just that stupid, and they paid the price with their young lives. I'm all for eliminating driver error. Allie Griffith FEBRUARY 08, 2009 09:28 PM This is very interesting VR...in the 110 years or so of automobile use in the US, the deaths from car crashes far outnumber the deaths we have in all our wars combined in 250 years. And I hope it's a part of our social evolution that this comes to pass--the avoidance of needless death on the highway. Also, interesting, that with the late emergence of China as an economic powerhouse, the high rate of fatalities there, though that's attributable to more than a billion people there. I'm sorry for your loss VR. bbd FEBRUARY 08, 2009 09:51 PM I have been waiting for this car forever! It always seemed like a good idea, to let the car drive itself. No more falling asleep at the wheel, no more distraction from driving listening to book tapes....now essential when I have to take a long trip. Where can I get this to add to my Prius?!! C Berg FEBRUARY 08, 2009 10:48 PM You overlooked another bit of progress, breathalyzers connected to the ignition. If the driver can't blow, he can't go. If I'm not mistaken, Illinois just passed a law requiring this for everyone convicted of DUI. Another terrific piece well worth the effort you put into it. Thank you. jimmymac1025 FEBRUARY 08, 2009 11:04 PM Thanks for making me think verbal. Those stats are unreal. For the 1963 Seattle World's Fair they built the Monorail which is a fast, clean mass transit system that could be used everywhere. It has never caught on. I take the bus to on my 30 mile commute and am often the only one on the bus. People just can't stand to wait even if for just a few minutes . The two lane roads around here can be deadly, especially in the winter . The margin of error is often unforgivable. Dr.Spudman 44 FEBRUARY 08, 2009 11:16 PM So when do we get our flying cars? I figure that should be just around the corner from the technology you're talking about. Imagine...all that commute time that we (well, not me personally, I live 15 minutes from work) could be spending reading, talking to friends, watching videos--and still be safely "driving" our cars. merwoman FEBRUARY 08, 2009 11:59 PM Well, well presented, Verbal. I'm with you. Stim FEBRUARY 09, 2009 12:25 AM How did you go from "chief sarcasm officer" to "chief inconsistancy officer"? Seems like you turn out consistently great posts. rated Somyr Perry FEBRUARY 09, 2009 12:30 AM Dang, girl. I'm so glad I didn't write a piece for that OS open call. This would have seriously kicked my ass. I work in transportation safety so I've been following the development of the self-guiding technologies for quite a while now. As you say, some have already found their way to us. But seriously: "And that's the kind of driver whose opinion about this matter I really don't give any weight. At all." Is that any way for Miata girl to talk? You'll get my motorcycle from me when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. I seriously hope it doesn't come to that. I guess this makes me one of the opinions you don't give any weight to, eh? Cap'n Parrotdead FEBRUARY 09, 2009 12:40 AM O Catamitebastard FEBRUARY 09, 2009 01:05 AM When I was in high school I moved to a new school just weeks after two carloads of kids, driving to fast in the night, decided simultaneously to approach the same hill, driving way too fast, for the immortal adventure of 'leaping' across the crest. The two cars collided unexpectedly there at the very sharp top of the hill, and all 9 passengers died. I am certain that each of the parents of those kids would be happy today to be getting calls to come on over for dinner with the kids. Susanne Freeborn FEBRUARY 09, 2009 02:34 AM Utterly original, moving, constructive piece. My oldest daughter slid in the ice 4 weeks ago, into buried rocks, and was ok. While it seemed minor the car was totaled by the insurance company. You car, while incredible and perhaps inevitable, has a long way to go before it can prevent what happens when gravity and ice make controls moot. Greg Correll FEBRUARY 09, 2009 08:54 AM First off...I thoroughly read, was made thoughtful by and rated this piece:) Second....and I show off my cynicism here.....But we already have huge problem with drunk driving and drinking in general in America. What happens when automated transport makes drinking and driving a viable (perhaps even legal) option? Indeed, sometimes I wonder if DUI arrests are leading the green revolution when I see obese, redneck 50-something's leaving the liquor store with a case of beer balanced on their mountainbike handlebars.... freedomisgreen FEBRUARY 09, 2009 09:19 AM Thought provoking... I remember the People Mover very well. My mom visited Disneyland on its opening day and was hooked. Growing up we got to go several times a year and I spent many hours on the mover. We do need a safer way to get around. When we moved to AZ in 2004 we were blown away at the number of crosses, flowers, and homemade memorials to on the side of the road. They are everywhere!! Great post Verbal. Sorry to hear about your brothers. AZ David FEBRUARY 09, 2009 10:10 AM Back with individualized replies in a little while, but thanks everybody for your questions and input and feedback. A relevant aside that didn't really seem germane to the post: The accident was in 1987, and Dave's best friend Pat was driving. Pat walked away from the accident--just one of those things. Despite how horrendous it is to lose a family member, I think Pat had it worse than us. His best friend was gone and he'd been at the wheel. How do you live with that? Parrothead, I'm all for racetracks and encouraging daredevilry under controlled conditions. Just not around me on the freeway, eh? Mr. Remedy races two-wheelers at various spots around So.Cal., and as a direct result of getting his kicks that way, hasn't taken the Suzuki 1200 out on the actual roads for at least three years. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 09, 2009 10:22 AM Wow! I don't have a word that is better than excellent. If I did, I would use it do describe this post. I can see how personal tragedy would make this very difficult to write and you've pulled it off magnificently. If this is not a winner, then I have no idea what a winner looks like. Michael Rodgers FEBRUARY 09, 2009 10:50 AM Don't know PeopleMover but I was on that rail thingy at DFW back in November. The technology, admittedly used in a limited way, was there. Apprehensive at first, but it worked. You have crafted a powerful essay and I hope it gets the attention I feel it deserves. Stacey Youdin FEBRUARY 09, 2009 11:04 AM Pat D: Thanks. And the sad thing is, it's really the same story, 3500 times a day, somewhere in the world. Look at how many people just in this comment thread know somebody who's died in a "mobility malfunction." (I won't even go into the number of other friends in H.S. Suffice it to say, every yearbook had a memorial page.) James P: Love Woody in that era. Sleeper rocks! And as my note to Parrothead indicates, I think folks who want to speed around and race each other and hit ridiculous mph's should be able to do so, on tracks specially made for that, wearing all the right gear to minimize the likelihood of injury or death. But as we see in pro racing, even when all of that happens, rapid deceleration + squishy human body = double-plus ungood. Dakini: Ooooh, the tailgaters! This morning it's raining in San Diego, which happens once or twice a year. I averaged 8 mph. on the way to work. And yet, when traffic let up just a leeeeeetle bit, there was the jackass in the giant Toyota, riding my behind. Why? He could clearly see that things were just as congested 1/4 mile up the road! Gah. Rob: Infrastructure is a major part of reducing deaths (I think you'd be fascinated with all the intricacies of the WHO documents about the plague of automobile-related mortality, because they do go deeply into all of the issues like road construction, signals, speed limits, etc.) Sally: Aw, aren't you sweet. Yes, Mom & I still have each other, and Grandma too. :-) One of the ironies of my family: Had David the First (the infant) not died, I would not have become a member of this family through adoption. Strange but true. Who knows? I might have been snatched up by a shieking Hollywood diva... Marykelly, I'm sorry to hear about your loss due to road rage. That's something I think should be prosecuted with YEARS in prison, not a slap on the wrist. Learn to control yourselves out there, jerks. You aren't just endangering yourself--you're endangering all of us, who are simply trying to go out for a loaf of bread. Greg: Aw. Thanks. AnniThyme: I really do think we're no more than 15 years away from a mostly autonomous car. GM's been hitting the press releases about them for at least six years. There's got to be a way to commercialize and integrate all the technology we have on a cost-efficient basis. (Estimates about the cost of one automobile "accident" range from the low six-digits to the high six-digits...it couldn't be THAT expensive to send these cars into design & production, by comparison.) Joe, I like your additions. Especially the always-needed "carrot-and-stick." Roy, appreciate the feedback. Thanks. CG: You make me blush. Julie: Scary ghost-car story. Remember the "ghost plane" a few years back? All the crew and passengers were dead, but the autopilot kept on flying it on its course? Optimally, that's the kind of car I'm thinking of. (Not that I'm saying passengers should all die...but let's just say they pass out due to excessive martinis. The car ought to be able to finish its trip, whether or not they're awake.) Seattle: "I've never thought this through in quite this way" is one of the best compliments I can get as a blogger. Seriously, thank you. Charlie: Again, no hard figures, but I do know that the cost of 40,000 crashes per year are astronomical when you lump together medical costs, property damage, life insurance policies to be paid off, lawsuits, etc. One would hope this kind of auto-navigation and self-propulsion could be brought to the larger markets for less than we fork out retroactively. Maybe the insurance companies would sweeten the deal on policies for people who are willing to give up the wheel. Smithery: Yeah, and why is it, exactly, that carmakers continue to make vehicles capable of exceeding the federal interstate speed limits by factors of 2-3, anyway? Does anybody need a car that can do 220? Never mind need, even...do they have the right to buy and operate one on public roads? Because Assholes in Ferraris are some of my least favorite people on a freeway. Always. Lisa: HECK yeah. As a part of their conditional licensing, teens would have to be on 100% autopilot at all times. :-) Silkstone: Couldn't have said it better myself in re: "fear of flying" vs. "no fear of driving/riding." It makes no sense at all. You're far more likely to die six blocks from your own home than in the air. Outrider: Sorry about your mother. [sigh] Allie: That story made me so damned sad, because it's so damned common. There was no alcohol involved in my bro's crash, either. Just high spirits. Happiness. bbd: Isn't it amazing that we don't consider "mobility malfunctions" a problem, but we abhor war? When the body count is demonstrably higher for the former? I cannot compute. C Berg: I'm waiting too! Jimmymac: If you click into my old post about "Love and Addiction" and scroll toward the bottom, you'll find a link to a news story about a case in which the breathalyzer/ignition combination failed miserably. The problem: Assuming the drunk will limit his attempts to drive to his own car. Spud: I wish I could take the bus to work. Our system in this town is so scattered and inefficient, it would take me 3 transfers and well over 2 hours (during rush hour) to get the 12 miles from home to work. merwoman: You find me a video of a prototype flying car on YouTube and I'm so there! (But flying isn't necessary for automated transport, as the car up there and several others being worked on right now demonstrate.) Stim, thanks for the comment. Somyr, a commenter pointed out that I can be wildly inconsistent. To which I replied, "I most certainly--oh, look! a bird!--I'm sorry, we were discussing Derrida's theories as they pertain to bagels, yes?" And I realized, OK, I can live with being the Chief Inconsistency Officer. ;-) Cap'n, This Miata girl is very responsible with her tiny little toy car. She has to be. She's surrounded by vehicles six times her size, driving aggressively. So she settles into one lane and just enjoys the ride, top up or down. And if you're saying you ride responsibly, obeying speed limits, not weaving or lane-splitting...then I have no issue with your cycle. If you're one of the death-wish morons I see out and about every day? Well, for one, I'd be terribly disappointed in you, because I'd like to keep reading stuff from you, and it's very hard to blog when you're hooked up to IVs and a feeding tube. But mostly because, no, people who think the public roads are their own private playground really, really piss me off. As you might be able to tell. :-) CatBast: ? Susanne: What I said to Allie. Greg C: There is still that 7% of accidents that are, in fact, pure accidents and not related to drivers. And I know what ice-storm ice is like--forget it, I can't even WALK on that stuff. Last ice storm I saw was in '93, and I never want to see it again. No, you're right--technology does have its limitations. But traction control exists already and I've heard it's very helpful in hydroplaning situations. Wonder how it performs on ice. Freedomisgreen: I'm not following. Automated transport = NO driver. So no matter how drunk somebody might be, when they crawl into the car and hit "go," the worst thing they could do would be...I dunno, maybe key in the wrong destination? I'm not talking about tech-assisted driving. I'm talking about completely taking the driver out of the picture. Which would eliminate drinking and driving entirely. AZ David: Yeah, the pox of roadside memorials. That's a controversial issue in and of itself. They're illegal in most states, you know, because they allegedly create a road hazard--rubbernecking. Irony. Michael R and Stacy Y: Thank you. Kalvin: Really? I'll have to go check that out. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 09, 2009 12:25 PM Well done. I know the backstory, but what you've done with it here is amazing. Merc8tor FEBRUARY 09, 2009 01:51 PM Great post Verbal..the story of your brother is heartbreaking....and there are so many others...hopfully inspiring the continuing research. Gary Justis FEBRUARY 09, 2009 03:45 PM First, my condolences at the loss of your brother. Second, my sympathies on having to be the one who told your mother. The USM is not the answer. Sorry. I've been a technical writer for the better part of 20 years. I understand technology and how it works, software and hardware. ONE glitch, and thousands will die in an instant. Think about it. You're talking about people in USM vehicles hurtling down the road at between 35 and 65mph. If the system controlling the USM vehicles experiences any kind of error, those vehicles will most likely go out of control, with no way of taking back control of them (I'm assuming that dual-use vehicles would be impossible or impractical). The truth is that it's something like the PeopleMover that will save lives, and perhaps the planet. All We the People need to do is push the politicians hard enough. If you had told me five years ago that a sitting President would cap executive compensation at $500k per annum in exchange for a bailout, I would have laughed. We can do it, if we but try. Rob Anderson FEBRUARY 09, 2009 05:01 PM Rob, your "one glitch" scenario does give pause, and then I think...well, thousands die every day right now. And the complexity of hardware, software, and systems required to integrate it all IS daunting. I don't think we're nearly there yet. But I also think, when the first commercial air flights took place, nobody could have envisioned what our (outdated, creaky, desperate-for-an-upgrade) air traffic control systems would look like. And yet, they exist, and they work, despite their mind-boggling complexity. Don't get me wrong. I'd LOVE to hop on my local "feeder" PeopleMover and direct it to send my pod to the high-speed PeopleMover lane in the middle of the freeway. That'd be even better than a self-driving car. Until then, however...the more accident-avoidance and user-error-minimizers they can build into our personal transportation/potential moving coffins, the, the better. Verbal Remedy FEBRUARY 09, 2009 05:05 PM Great post VR. I read this last night, but I didn't have the words to respond. I still don't. First of all, unbelievably written. Wow. I've never really thought about passive driving before. What a good idea. I'm all for this. This would also probably be good for the economy; Detroit are you listening? How about the productivity hours gained by having rested and unstressed people showing up at work everyday? Personally, I wish they would overhaul and rehab the rail system in this country. MJ MJwycha FEBRUARY 09, 2009 05:09 PM Its a transcendental moment. 140 years of connections. So many friends and loved ones. Bill Beck FEBRUARY 09, 2009 07:39 PM Very true, the flying car is not necessary. Wouldn't it be fun, though? ;) merwoman FEBRUARY 10, 2009 12:02 AM An exquisitely crafted read that manages to both teach and implore common sense while going directly to the heart of the matter. You have an incredible grasp of the human condition from an emotional and intellectual perspective. You are a very special, gifted breed. Nice to be back home and read great stuff from you! cartouche FEBRUARY 10, 2009 07:45 AM I've been involved in my share of "road crashes". Some of them were completely my fault; some I was simply incapable of avoiding. But I learned and learned fast that piloting a one and a half ton piece of metal and glass through congested cities, with traffic both motorized and pedestrian, requires attention and care. I used to feel that being able to go where I wanted WHEN I wanted was freedom. I now see it as convenience; convenience I am fortunate to have, since where I live public transportation is in pitifully short supply. Would I be willing to forgo the pleasure of piloting my own car? Not sure, but I think I could get used to it. Well designed piece, Denise. If you don't get a win on this, I want to know why not. Thumbed. Bill S. FEBRUARY 10, 2009 11:19 AM So sorry for your loss, anything I say beyond that sounds empty. My son totalled his car 3 mos after I bought it. He went upside down and backwards, over a bridge and landed on the other side of the creek. But for the grace of God and seatbelts, he and two of his best buddies would not have walked away. But they did. As for the public giving up driving, I don't see that happening in my lifetime -- if ever. But I would like to see some things done to mitigate the slaughter on our highways -- starting with real driver training and strictly regulated driver's licensing. Driving is not a right, it's a privilege -- a privilege people should have to work for and lose far more often than they do. As I've mentioned before, I was taught to drive by the best -- my father, a lifetime Teamster and over-the-road trucker who never had an accident in more than seventy years of driving. Why? Most importantly because he understood how dangerous driving was, and how if was made even more so because most drivers behaved as though that wasn't the case. Dad's first rule of the road? Pay attention at all times. He said you have to drive for everyone else on the road because they aren't paying attention. When I see people behind the wheel on cellphones or eating or putting on make-up or even carrying on an active conversation with a passenger, I realize just how right Dad was. I can't tell you how many times anticipating what some other driver was going to do before they did it has saved my life. Another thing that could greatly reduce fatalities is putting drunk drivers in jail and leaving them there. Here in East TN, people are regularly let out with a warning even after their fourth or fifth DUI. Tom Cordle FEBRUARY 10, 2009 03:58 PM I'm sorry to hear about your brother, Verbal. Your story hits very close to home. In 1962, when my father was stationed in Japan, I came home one day (when I was 8) to find out that my sister (barely 7) had been involved in a traffic accident. She'd missed her bus stop and had to debark when the bus was on the return trip. No laws then & there about stopping for school buses. I wasn't the one to tell either of my parents, but I did have to give someone in authority at the accident site my father's name and rank (maybe my mother's name, too), so that they could be notified. My father was at work, and my mother was on the base with a friend. My younger siblings and I didn't know until our mother got home that our sister had died. My mother never got over it, and neither did my parents' marriage. I can't reasonably evaluate the smart car systems you mention, but I do know that there is a significant movement toward better engineering and making cars safer. Your last paragraph really sums it up: Put it all together with active navigation and I can envision the end of road rage; the end of drunk driving; the end of aggressive tailgating; the end of teenage delusions of immortality. I can envision 1 million warm humans each year, still alive. Now that's sustainable. The road rage and aggressive tailgating, in particular, are things that really bother me. You don't have to spend much time on the road on the East Coast to be subjected to them. The toll that such deaths take on families every day/month/year is something that has not been told often enough. ktm FEBRUARY 10, 2009 04:12 PM Sorry, a missing close-italics after Now that's sustainable. ktm FEBRUARY 10, 2009 04:14 PM I'm sorry that it took me so long to get here, because this is an area where I can offer some ----er---expertise. Verbal, this is brilliant. And, I couldn't agree with you more, drivers have to go---and I'd like to volunteer to be the first to go. Living in CA, god knows we are not only in the land of cars, but the land of *expensive* cars. Everytime I here a ridiculous "price-tag" dropped (Oh, so and so's car cost 70K 80K 100K or more!!!!) I always ask the same questions: "Is it a fucking hover-craft? Does it drive itself?" Because, as you so brilliantly point out THAT would be a worthwhile vehicle. m. a.h FEBRUARY 10, 2009 05:01 PM It's cliche, but true, as I read about that awful call to your mother, I could only think "there but for the grace of God go I..." as I once had a similar accident on an ice covered road near where you grew up. There has been so much wasted life as a result of car accidents. My nephew is sitting in a wheel chair as I type this, in a near vegetative state, 31 years old. You can even go back to history, and look at someone like George Patton, who survived the war only to die in a traffic accident a year later. or Gottfried von Bismarck, the grandson of Otto von Bismarck, who was part of the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler, and who, though arrested and tortured, managed to survive and be released after the war, only to die in an automobile accident in 1947. How's that for tragic irony? Procopius FEBRUARY 10, 2009 05:10 PM This is a fantastic post. I'm so sorry about your brother. Your poem about it was amazing. Do you think people will be able to let go of driving? I would hope they would in the interest of others' safety, but I don't know. JustJuli FEBRUARY 10, 2009 05:16 PM What a painful post to read, yet you led me through it with skill and a story full of facts that was literally stunning. My condolences! Ralph Tingey FEBRUARY 11, 2009 03:00 AM