If you like cheesy, B-rated sci-fi movies then you might remember the Stephen King short story that was turned into one. The basic premise of this 1986 flick was that machines, mostly vehicles, came alive and started killing their human builders. At the time, I remember thinking “Cars driving themselves, how ridiculous!” Well, I guess I wasn’t forward thinking enough because just 30 years later the big talk is of self-driving cars. Really? Has the human race become so lazy that we can’t even drive our own cars? I guess in the case of some drivers this is actually a good thing. But for those of us with a passion for driving it’s not good news at all.
One of the overarching ideals that made this country so great was the idea of freedom, and nothing epitomized this concept more than jumping in your car, hitting the open road, and driving anyplace you desired whenever you wanted. In the ’50s and ’60s our cars were dumb and our drivers were smart. But somehow people started wanting automation. Some of this progress has been fine, we bank at a machine, rent movies from a machine, pass through automated tollbooths, etc. But do we really need machines to do everything for us? Is that really progress? Can an autonomous car appreciate the sheer joy of slicing through the curves of Pacific Coast Highway? Can it know the exhilaration of nailing the perfect apex on a mountain road in Tennessee? It’s bad enough that so many in our newest generation can’t drive a manual transmission, but do we need to rip away the rest?
I have faith though. It wasn’t long ago that the automotive brain trust said manual transmissions would be gone by now. Porsche ditched them years ago, which I found pretty damn sad. Thankfully, those passionate about driving have made their desires known and Chevrolet has kept manual transmissions in the design loop. Sure, computers have made automatics as fast, and in many cases faster, than rowing gears manually, but that’s not the point. We want manual transmissions for the same reason we don’t want self-driving cars. Because driving is about becoming one with the car, not being insulated from it.
So for self-driving cars, I say no thanks. I want my hands on the wheel and my car at least a bit dumber than I am. Besides, I still sometimes check my rearview mirror to see if a driverless 18-wheeler with a green goblin mask on the front is barreling down on me.