The Lost Art of Driving

I read a quote in the newspaper recently that I thought was rather interesting. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, made a statement concerning the introduction of driverless vehicles. He said that driving cars may become outlawed in the future because having a human behind the wheel is just too dangerous. Of course, he is developing a driverless car that he says will be available by 2023.

Mr. Musk is a true futurist, with possibly more insight than I. Imagine that you get in your car in the driveway, push a button for a destination that is common for you, pour a cup of coffee, lean back and watch the news on the dashboard TV screen and a few minutes later you reach your destination without incident and perfectly safe. That would be cool.

However, this is one technology that, while certainly cool, I hope will never become mandated. Imagine never again being able to turn the key or push the start button, listen to the engine roar, feel the power under your feet and manipulate through traffic. You would miss the control you have of a two-ton machine in your hands as it speeds down the highway. Let’s face it; what you will miss is the art of driving.

Without a doubt though, the driverless car is here and it won’t go away. An auto-piloted vehicle will be common place in a few decades for exactly the reason Mr. Musk voiced above. Automakers started this technological transition with the automatic transmission and moved to cruise control. We now have cars that park themselves, brake for us, give us back-up cameras and show us the way with heads-up-display and GPS. In the very near future, the automated vehicles will read street signs, help you back-in and pull out of a parking space and make the cabin smell nice with a fragrance atomizer.

My wife, Ann, was reading the other day of a car thief who was thwarted because of a standard transmission. The (would be) crook carjacked a vehicle at gunpoint, but when trying to drive away he discovered the car had a stick shift that he didn’t know how to operate. The police caught him as he was running around the parking lot looking for a different car to steal. I have read articles that claim stick-shift vehicles are a theft deterrent much like an alarm might be. This could be something to consider for us old-school drivers out there.

I have a 2000 Audi A6, with a six-speed standard transmission and dual turbo. It is my baby and I take good care of it. In the future maybe I won’t need to lock it. I’m reasonably sure it won’t be stolen, not because of its looks (racing red with ivory leather interior), but because most of the thieves out there won’t be able to drive it. What will happen years from now when the young adults of the future will not know how to park, steer, or brake a vehicle because they never had to?

Now, I suppose you’re wondering what this has to do with automotive glass. When vehicles begin to drive themselves and driverless cars populate more and more of the highway, will glass breakage fall dramatically? One of the biggest causes of glass breakage are rocks being thrown at high speed from the vehicle in front of you. Will cars be programmed to follow further behind the car in front of them, eliminating tailgating and reducing glass breakage?

I’m not too worried about this one. I think that it is probable that cars will be programmed to follow closely, because vehicle automated systems are more reactive to its surroundings. Increased traffic in the future dictates more tightly-spaced traffic. There is no need to worry about the reaction time of the driver in front or behind you because the automated vehicle will react to the slightest movement it senses. Thus, the automated vehicles may literally be right on your bumper and everyone is still perfectly safe. Now, if they come up with a way to pave roadways with no rocks or potholes, then we are in trouble.