If you are going to ride the freeways it does you no good to think of that thing between your thighs as a motorcycle. Whether it is a bike or not is beside the point. If you want to be an old biker someday you have to understand that you’re riding a cloak of invisibility.
Automobile drivers run over motorcycles and abruptly pull in front of them all the time. The results are often catastrophic for the biker. When there is a collision motorists always say, “I never saw the bike.” Police are inclined to believe the drivers who are rarely charged because there is some body of evidence that motorists who say that are telling the truth. In general drivers don’t see motorcycles because they don’t expect to see motorcycles.
Expose, Confront, Change
So the advent of “autonomous cars” may or may not be a good thing for motorcyclists. Not that anybody has any choice about whether there will be driverless cars on the San Diego Freeway and the New Jersey Turnpike within the next five years. To quote the immortal turn of phrase coined by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome, driverless cars are coming “whether you like it or not.”
It is probably only a matter of time until “Whether you like it or not” replaces E Pluribus Unum as the national motto. But there are some rational people who would like to slow down the ever accelerating transformation of the United States and the rest of the First World into a science fiction dystopia. Yesterday one of them was a guy named John M. Simpson who is the “Privacy Project Director” for a non-profit group called Consumer Watchdog – whose official motto, by the way, is “Expose, Confront, Change.”
Simpson is alarmed by the alacrity with which the new “Google Car” is likely to appear on public roads in California. Anybody who remembers the days when auto GPS devices instructed motorists to drive over cliffs or who has seen this week’s Forbes headline, “After GM’s Apology: More Than 2 Million Dangerous Cars Still On The Road,” understands that consumer technology is not foolproof. Google, which some people still think of as merely a search engine, is itself aware of the shortcomings inherent in the global positioning infrastructure integral to its autonomous car. That’s why Google announced yesterday that it is spending a half billion dollars to buy a satellite company called Skybox Imaging.
In case you missed it, Google announced on May 27 that it is building a fleet of 100 experimental electric-powered vehicles that have no driver controls whatsoever. You control these things with a smart phone. You use your phone to tell the autonomous vehicle where you want to go and the Google car, theoretically, takes you there instead of over a cliff into the Pacific. Also, in an ideal world, these Jetsons’ gizmos will notice when you are splitting lanes on any of El Lay’s lovely byways without going into kill mode.
Google probably doesn’t intend to start manufacturing cars. What Google wants to do is develop and sell technology that existing manufacturers like Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz can use in the driverless cars they are already developing.
And what Consumer Watchdog objects to about all this is Google’s intention to start testing these things on California highways at the end of the summer, on September 16. The group wants a driver with control over things like starting, stopping and steering in these “cars” for another two years – until July 2016.
Yesterday Simpson wrote Jean Shiomoto, Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles:
“I am writing on behalf of Consumer Watchdog to express our concern that Google and others with a vested interest in developing autonomous vehicle technology, also known as ‘driverless cars,’ may push the Department of Motor Vehicles into promulgating rules regulating the public use of these vehicles on California’s highways that are inadequate to protect our safety.
“There can be no doubt that Google is pushing to deploy autonomous vehicles as fast as it can. The Department of Motor Vehicles must not succumb to the Internet giant’s pressure. One of the key safety provisions of the testing regulations is the requirement that there must be a test driver in the driver’s seat who is capable of assuming control of the car if there is a problem.
Little more than a week after the DMV adopted the testing regulations, Google announced plans for a fleet of driverless cars that have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator. There would be no way for an occupant to take control in an emergency; occupants would be captives of Google’s technology, completely at the Internet giant’s mercy.
“We call on the DMV to ensure the safety of the public is put well ahead of the self-serving agendas of the manufacturers. The autonomous vehicle regulations for public use should require a full year’s results of testing under DMV regulations with at least six months to publicly scrutinize and analyze the results before a vehicle can be certified.”
If you want to know more you can read the Consumer Watchdog press release here.