I’ve talked to a lot of car enthusiasts about self-driving cars, and they generally all have the same feeling: no thanks. Car enthusiasts don’t like self-driving cars, because car enthusiasts are afraid that self-driving cars are going to ruin the fun: Once people get in a car, sit down and have it automatically bring them somewhere, then nobody will make cars for driving enjoyment anymore.
I think this is totally wrong, and I personally can’t wait for self-driving cars — and today I’m going to explain why.
First, I want to talk about traffic. The majority of Americans, and much of the world, live in large cities — and large cities almost always mean large traffic. Many, many people sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic as they commute, and that always means truly horrible driving experiences: You sit there, you go forward, you stop, you go forward and eventually you just get frustrated. To me, this is the biggest advantage of a self-driving car: You no longer have to do the whole "bumper-to-bumper" driving thing. You can sit there, the car does the work, and — in theory, anyway, maybe someday — you can do something else.
That, in itself, is the biggest benefit of the self-driving car — and, to me, it’s the primary reason why I’d like to have one: so I don’t have to sit in boring bumper-to-bumper traffic anymore, and pay attention as I do the same repetitive motion over and over. And it brings up another benefit, too: productivity. In a world where we have self-driving cars, why not run a treadmill while you’re being driven to work? It seems absolutely absurd now, but it wouldn’t seem absurd on an airplane — even though it, too, once would’ve been considered crazy. Plus, you could do that on your way to work instead of when you get home from work, giving you more time with your family. Same with answering emails, taking calls or anything else you might normally do from your desk.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s an obvious safety benefit to self-driving cars, assuming they work properly: They’ll do a better job of avoiding accidents than normal humans driving cars. Self-driving cars will probably never bring accidents to zero, but I’ve been on the road with a lot of people, and frankly I trust machines more than a disappointingly high proportion of human drivers.
Of course, there are other potential benefits, too — less traffic, improved efficiency, whatever. But I’ve named my top benefits, and now I’m going to explain why I don’t think this should worry car people: because there will still be fun cars. You will still be able to enjoy yourself in a car — I mean it.
Consider basically any other form of movement, and there’s a fun activity devoted to it. Snowmobiling, skiing, motorcycling, horseback riding, boating, jet skiing, whatever you can think of — there’s a "fun" component to all of it. It makes no sense why this would go away for cars, just like it hasn’t gone away for any other industry. And the result there is an important one: as long as we still have fun cars for weekends, for back roads, for winding canyons, then who really cares if we have to sit in a self-driving, automated car as we go to work? What difference does it make if we commute in something special, just as long as we can be absolutely certain we still have special, fun cars that allow us to enjoy our weekends behind the wheel?
My view is that I’d gladly trade out my commuter vehicle for a self-driving car, as long as it got me where I needed to go and gave me less burnout and boredom on the way. As long as I don’t have to give up my fun weekend car — and I haven’t heard a single person advocating for that — then I see no reason why we, as car enthusiasts, should worry. Unless, for some reason, you actually enjoy sitting in traffic. Then your days of enjoyment are numbered. Hopefully.