Slam on the brakes if you want to, but you're about to get overruled by a machine.
News this week says the driverless car -- once a fuzzy swirl in the constellation of science fiction -- could be available to consumers by 2018.
Google is involved. So are BMW, Toyota and GM. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is tapping on the brakes with new driverless-vehicle policies. But three states -- California, Nevada and Florida -- have legalized them on the highway. Others are sure to follow, even if the South Carolina legislature is still seeking a corporate sponsor for a bill to unharness the mule.
Here in the Lowcountry, we can see that this grand idea has a basic flaw. It assumes that living, breathing drivers pay attention to the road.
We know that's not true.
Why else has that van from Ohio been on Sea Pines Circle since 1992?
Why would so many drivers go five miles with a right-turn signal blinking? When they're in the left lane? Going 35 mph? And why would the same person try to negotiate a turn across four lanes and a median -- without using a turn signal?
In the Lowcountry, a driverless car may actually have a driver. It's just that you may not be able to see the driver over the steering wheel.
And that driver -- with oversized sunglasses wrapped around the head like a helmet -- may not be able to see you, or anything else for that matter.
Adding to the sport, we don't believe in street lights around here. And the only way you can get a sign permit is to prove that no one can read the sign. So when our cars splash into lagoons at night, it's hard to tell whether they had a driver or not.
And they don't call this Cirrhosis Shores for nothing, if you know what I mean. When people say, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere," they're talking about us. As soon as you realize it's always 5 o'clock here, some of this other stuff, like letters to the editor, starts to make a little more sense.
Actually, the Lowcountry had the world's first driverless vehicles many years ago. While the 1939 World's Fair called its exhibit on driverless cars "Futurama," we had another name for them. We called them marsh tackys.
When the owner of one of these trusty little steeds tippled too much at the juke joint, the proprietor would put the souse on his horse, slap the marsh tacky on the flank and the driverless vehicle would happily trot home.
Come to think of it, the sooner they get here with the driverless car the better.
- Driverless cars should slow down, some say, USA Today, June 10, 2013
- Google driverless car -- YouTube