The March to Automation: Feedback on the Advent of Driverless Car Technology: NMA E-Newsletter #384

The response to our e-newsletter of two weeks ago (Zombie Drivers – Say What?: NMA E-Newsletter #382) has been considerable.  That overall interest in the topic of driverless cars is also reflected by the daily influx of related stories to the NMA newsfeeds that fuel the Driving News sections of our state pages.

Before sharing feedback from our readers, it may be helpful to review the five levels of autonomous driving:

Level 0
A human driver is in complete control of the vehicle
Level 1
Isolated operations, such as adaptive cruise control or crash avoidance systems, are automated but a human driver is always at the helm
Level 2
Multiple automated systems are active but a driver sits at the controls, in a state of readiness to take over full control of the vehicle as necessary
Level 3
Under certain conditions the car is fully autonomous; its operating system notifies the driver when to take over
Level 4 
The car is fully autonomous, allowing for driverless pickups/deliveries and passengers who are completely disengaged from the driving process

Many motorists are apprehensive about turning over greater, and ultimately full, control of their vehicle to a series of computerized algorithms that send commands to automated systems.  Among the comments we received:

Repetition, retraining and constant practice are the only means of maintaining a level of skill where reaction to unusual circumstances becomes instinctive. 

In my 44 years as a commercial pilot I vividly recall an emergency for which there had been no adequate rehearsal and I froze for two seconds, realizing I had no idea of how to deal with it.  The skills honed by repetitive practice kicked in, allowing my training to take over. The result was that I wound up doing everything right. With little experience the results would have not come out as well. Even aircraft carrier pilots practice constantly to maintain their skill level.  I can’t help but believe the same skill practice translates to the highway. 

Steve Sevits
NMA New York member


I’m old enough to remember when it was predicted that in the future we’d all flying above the rooftops in our cars. Flying cars were coming, we were told, probably just around the corner. Now that whole idea is preposterous.

I hope this latest bit of futurism goes the same way. I can’t imagine sitting behind the wheel and not being engaged.  I’ve always enjoyed driving though today’s traffic isn’t much fun. But when I find a lonely country road with curves and scenery, I’m having fun. All this automation is going to take the fun out of life. At least I’ll still have motorcycles. They aren’t going to be making those riderless anytime soon.

I wonder if the new automated cars will make it more dangerous to be on a motorcycle? Well, probably not. Today’s drivers already often can’t see a motorcycle.

Ken Willis
NMA Colorado member


An excellent article by Matt Vella titled, “The Increasingly Compelling Case for Why You Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Drive,” appeared in the 3/7/16 issue of Time magazine.  

As a result of reading all the pros & cons, I’m becoming convinced that the best situation for use of Level 2-4 autonomy would be in low speed traffic congestion, typically stop & go commuter traffic in or near inner cities. Autonomous vehicles would greatly increase travel efficiency with little risk in those situations. And when the vehicle exits that scenario and increases speed, the driver should be required to resume control or else the car will pull over to the shoulder and stop.   

I agree with the member who stated in the NMA 5/8/16 Newsletter, “Driverless cars will create millions of incompetent drivers who become totally dependent on technology.” Nowhere would the driverless car be scarier than at high speed, particularly on a country road at night in bad weather. Imagine the frequently encountered scenario where, driving at 55 mph on a country road at night in winter, a deer or even larger animal runs into the road directly in front of you. Should you hit the animal, risking personal injury or death (depending on the size of the animal & vehicle) or should you swerve off the road?  Would the autonomous vehicle evaluate the size of the animal & the vehicle in making its decision? Would the vehicle evaluate the off-road conditions on both sides of the road, i.e. is it level ground or a 10 feet deep water filled ditch? How large are the trees relative to the vehicle? I have had to make that crucial decision myself on multiple occasions & would rather continue to have that responsibility. 

Bob Hogarth
NMA Michigan member


1 – A driverless vehicle will never go over the speed limit. Which means that they will be a lot slower on the freeway than current traffic.

2 – A driverless vehicle is, at least potentially, a passengerless vehicle. You could send your car to the store for a gallon of milk. Of course, there are other places you could send it as well. Think “cruise missile”. 

Dr. Jerome Berryhill
NMA Oregon member


As a cyclist (and, a motor vehicle operator), I see both the benefits and dangers of “driverless” cars. 

For those who have little, or no, interest in the activity of driving a car, especially in high-traffic areas with complex signage, road markings, and signals, cars that can do all the “thinking” will be very useful and welcome. My anecdotal experience indicates that fewer and fewer young people are willing to assume the responsibility of owning and operating a motor vehicle, particularly in urban areas, where other means of transport are available, and where costs are high, and where parking may be challenging. 

Indeed, given the caliber of people I’ve interviewed for technical positions over the past few years, I’m not sure I’d want most of them to try to drive a car. Some people, these days, simply do not have the attention span or the confidence to responsibly operate a motor vehicle.  

On the other hand, and, particularly, as a cyclist, I am scared to death of “driverless” vehicles that cannot, or will not, successfully negotiate the rapidly changing conditions that occur when a motor vehicle encounters a bicycle, or bicycles, on the road. I have no doubt that there will be “accidents”, and, possibly, fatalities. My biggest concern is whether the law will be able to keep up with the technology, especially regarding the “responsibility” of the “driverless” vehicle when an “accident” occurs. The court cases should prove quite … interesting. 

Kevin Singleton
NMA Pennsylvania member


And finally, we suspect Bob speaks for a large segment of NMA members: 

About driverless vehicles/autonomous vehicles/whatever they’re called:  None of this ‘safety’ stuff means anything to me if it can’t be turned off.  There are times that I’d like to have the car drive me, but they are rare. That’s why I hope my current car, a 2007 Honda Accord, will live to see 500,000 miles.  It doesn’t have any of that stuff. 

For me, it’s fun to go out for a drive with no particular destination in mind. 

Bob Morrow
NMA Montana member

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!