As a blind guy, and sometimes the only blind guy in the room, I get it a lot. “I bet you’re looking forward to the self-driving car.” And I mean I get it. I really, really get it. But my answer is always “yes, but no”.
In theory, absolutely yes. I could move back to small town Ontario with the rest of my family and not have to rely on said family to get me from A to B. Or, if I didn’t feel like moving back there for any one of a number of still very true reasons, I’d have the option of deciding on a whim that hey, it’s the weekend–let’s do a road trip. I mean I’d still play the lazy card where possible and have groceries/food delivered, because it means I don’t have to deal with other people, but I’d have a lot more direct control–and, I mean, let’s be real that includes of where the money spent goes. I have 0 problem paying for an Uber, or otherwise putting money in someone else’s gas tank. But if you give me the option of putting it in my own instead, I take that option every time. Plus my hypothetical self-driving car won’t be unavailable at 11:00 at night if I decide I want to start paying to rent a space to work from and need a ride home.
All that being said, in practice… that’ll be a no. A few immediate reasons spring to mind, but a couple stand out. First, GPS is still not as accurate as I’d like–in certain parts of Ottawa, if I want to navigate to a specific address, the GPS will often stop me a block or two away from that address (fortunately I 1: know that area well enough to know I’m not actually at that address and 2: no longer have a reason to bother going anywhere near that address, so that’s not a current issue but still an issue). Second and on a similar thread, I mentioned small town Ontario. Some of those small towns don’t show up very well on GPS, if they show up at all–I’ve driven through small towns that every navigation system I had access to wanted to tell me didn’t exist and that I was really in $MajorCity. I mean, I was about half an hour away, which if we’re talking GTA might as well be Toronto, but I promise I was definitely not in $MajorCity. If the GPS was driving, I would be.
Speaking of if the GPS was driving, vehicle autopilot systems are… eh. Not great. Uber’s attempt at self-driving cars had so many issues they ended up selling the business just so it didn’t choke them. And if Tesla is supposed to be the gold standard, well… we’re in trouble.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it is upgrading the Tesla probe to an engineering analysis, another sign of increased scrutiny of the electric vehicle maker and automated systems that perform at least some driving tasks.
An engineering analysis is the final stage of an investigation, and in most cases NHTSA decides within a year if there should be a recall or the probe should be closed.
Documents posted Thursday by the agency raise some serious issues about Tesla’s Autopilot system. The agency found that it’s being used in areas where its capabilities are limited, and that many drivers aren’t taking action to avoid crashes despite warnings from the vehicle.
The probe now covers 830,000 vehicles, almost everything that the Austin, Texas, carmaker has sold in the U.S. since the start of the 2014 model year.
NHTSA reported that is has found 16 crashes into emergency vehicles and trucks with warning signs, causing 15 injuries and one death.
The whole idea of the blind guy getting into a self-driving car is so that he doesn’t cause an accident–or, more likely, contribute to one–by, you know, driving while blind. If the car (keep in mind, this is with a human supervisor who can see) ends up causing or contributing to the accident instead, there just went any motivation I had for doing the self-driving thing. I may as well drive it myself.
I’m not saying self-driving cars are an absolutely terrible idea. If someone can pull off a miracle and make one that 1: works and 2: doesn’t require a human supervisor with vision to come with it–thus defeating the whole idea of the blind guy using a self-driving car, provided they don’t end up selling for a million (okay, it will probably be two million), I’ll be all over it. I’m a man of convenience, and having a vehicle I can drive–or, rather, direct where to drive me–without needing to wait for a vehicle and its driver to become available would be convenient. I’m also a realist. And realistically, we’re nowhere near there yet and very well won’t be in my lifetime. At least not to a degree where it will be practical.
I want to be proven wrong. I know several people who want me to take a random road trip to come see them who want me to be proven wrong. But here’s the thing. My insurance rates would probably be tripple anyone else’s just by virtue of the fact everyone loves a blind guy tax. They don’t need to be taken higher because my car can’t drive any better than I can, thank you kindly. And on the day if and when I am 100% proven wrong, I will happily sit there and let everyone tell me they told me so. Then I’ll start the GoFundMe to raise the million I’ll need to buy one. It… just probably won’t be a Tesla, and not because its founder and CEO is a raging moron–though if I were employed by that raging moron I might have some concerns.