It has long been said that the car part most prone to failure was the nut behind the wheel, and now General Motors seems on the way to solving that weakest link by eliminating it.
GM says it will begin testing driverless-car technology by 2015 and begin selling driverless cars around 2018. Most of the technology — radar, GPS mapping, automated controls, stability sensors — are already available for a car to drive somewhere by itself and parallel park when it gets there. (How much technology, you may well ask, does it take to sit motionless in traffic on, say, I-95?)
Driverless cars, although counterintuitive, make sense. Properly designed software will not doze, drink, run yellow lights, cut in line or make obscene gestures at other motorists. It can, however, safely tailgate, a way of getting more cars onto a given stretch of asphalt.
The obstacles to driverless cars, a GM official told the Associated Press, are human, not technical — government regulation, liability and the fact that not driving your own car seems, well, just so durn un-American. And it strikes at a core principle of masculinity: American males think they’re much better drivers than they really are and believe in their heart of hearts that, in a pinch, they could actually fix their own cars, even though the only parts they can recognize are the spare tire and the battery.
However, it is a good bet that the driverless car is inevitable. What with all those motoring amenities like TVs, DVDs, video games, hands-free cell phones, wall-to-wall sound and wireless Internet access, who has time to actually drive the car anymore?