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As a Pro Driver, I Refuse to Even Sit in a Self-Driving Car

I can’t trust a computer to make split-second decisions when it matters most

The Real Janine
Nov 27, 2018 · 5 min read
Photo by Angelo Merendino/AFP/Getty

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I’m a high performance driving instructor, professional driver, and race car driver. I’ve taught Teen Highway Survival courses, trained people who drive for a living, and instructed people how to drive safer and faster on a race track.

I’ve also participated in an ice driving school and a rally driving school. I have a pretty good grasp on how to drive a car safely in any situation. I also have the ability to think and assess ever-changing situations almost instantaneously.

Even if I didn’t have my skills and training, I wouldn’t ever sit my butt in a self-driving car. I will never trust them. Ever.

Sure, it can brake when a car pulls out in front of it, but a self-driving car will never be able to make the split-second decisions that can save a life.

Let’s say your kid is playing ball in the front yard with your dog. The dog chases the ball into the street and your kid runs after them. A self-driving car sees three moving objects: one small, one medium, and one that’s slightly larger. There are cars parked on both sides of the street. If the car swerves too far to the right, it will hit a car, but miss your kid and the dog. If it maneuvers slightly to the right, it will miss the car and the dog, but hit your kid. If the car swerves to the left, it can avoid your kid and dog, but hit oncoming traffic. If the car just brakes without swerving, the ball will survive, but your kid and dog won’t.

Does a self-driving car have the ability to discern between all those options in a split second? Are you willing to risk your kids’ life on it?

A self-driving car will never be able to make the split-second decisions that can save a life.

What happens if you are driving on a freeway and a six-foot roll of wire fencing falls off the truck in front of you? This isn’t completely hypothetical—it actually happened to me. The massive roll started to drift to the right, so I steered left. Then the fencing bounced to the left, so I had to aggressively swerve to the right to avoid it. Is a self-driving vehicle capable of making those dynamic adjustments in nanoseconds?

Then there was the time I was driving on the San Mateo Bridge in Northern California. There were two lanes in each direction, fully divided, and the car in front of me lost a wheel. Not a tire, but the whole damn wheel—and it came bouncing toward me. It bounced in front of my car, then over it. I was extremely lucky.

Would the self-driving vehicle have stopped when it saw the car in front of it crash and leave me helpless in the line of a bouncing wheel? I would much rather have control of my vehicle than have its controls overtaken by a computer that may not fully comprehend a situation. I will never risk my safety—or anyone else’s—on that bet.

If that isn’t enough to hit the brakes on a self-driving car, let me ask you: Has your computer ever crashed? Or maybe even just slow down a bit because it’s crunching too much data? Computers do this. Often. Would you want your kid running in front of a self-driving car that’s having a glitch?

I recently saw a commercial for self-driving technology: The dad was driving a traditional car, the mom’s in the passenger seat, and two adorable kids are in the backseat being kids. The father turns around and looks at his kids, then turns back around to see a truck has crossed his path, and oops, it’s too late. The suggestion being that a self-driving car is the answer to this kind of situation.

Hey dad, here’s a thought: keep your eyes on the road and do the job your family is counting on you — not your car — to do.

This transition to self-driving vehicles feels inevitable in the face of all the other “nanny” controls added to modern vehicles. Years ago, we were towing our race boat with our pickup truck. The boat weighed over 10,000 pounds, not including the trailer; it was a heavy load. We were on a two-lane freeway and traffic backed up suddenly. My boyfriend was driving and hit the brakes and the ABS (anti-lock braking system) engaged, but towing that much weight, the truck started shaking and smoke came off the tires. Because there was so much weight pushing us, the steering was ineffective, and we were on a collision course with the car stopped in traffic front of us. The quick thinking and awareness of that other driver, who put his foot on the gas pedal and slipped into the next lane with seconds to spare as we screeched into his space, was the only thing that prevented an accident. I don’t think a self-driving car would have been able to make that assessment and we would have crashed.

I would much rather have control of my vehicle than have its controls overtaken by a computer that may not fully comprehend a situation.

Another piece of technology that’s infiltrated our vehicles is rear back-up cameras. Drivers rely on a camera and a tiny screen to provide all the information they need about their surroundings to keep everyone safe. Even with a back-up camera, a driver still needs to look all the way around the car for people or other vehicles before backing.

These added technologies—lane departure, adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, etc.—ultimately take away a driver’s control and responsibility. While some of these modifications are necessary and useful for drivers with certain disabilities, for other drivers, they’ve become an excuse to pay less attention. If a driver is alert and focused and their eyes are up and on a swivel, checking mirrors several times a minute, they don’t need these controls because they’re paying attention.

Self-driving cars and nanny technologies let people believe it’s okay to multitask while behind the wheel, thinking such technology allows them to eat, text, and direct their attention elsewhere while pretending to drive. But humans were designed to do one thing at a time. If you’ve ever seen a person walk into a parked car, or another person, while texting, you understand my point. As soon as you start dividing your attention, you divide your ability.

I have made driving skills a priority since I was a teenager. I would drive up the mountains, find an iced-over parking lot, and practice skid control. I still do it to this day, because I take my driving and your safety very seriously. So take it from me: We don’t need self-driving vehicles. We need responsible drivers who understand that their one and only job is to get themselves, and their passengers, to their destination in one piece.

The Real Janine

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Life’s short. Eat the cake. Buy the car. Laugh until you cry. Please yourself. Be real. Always be honest. Live with integrity. Never give up. Be better everyday

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