The auto industry news cycle these days is dominated by the prospect that, in the near-future, we will live in a world where everyone gets where they need to go in a self-driving vehicle. Working on this blog, a good percentage of the news items that I come across are related to self-driving technology, whether it be a deadly collision involving a test vehicle or the labor involved in their creation. Which is to say - I have been thinking a lot of self-driving cars lately.
There is something inevitably exiting about self-driving cars. It feels like something out of The Jetsons, or at least a big step in that direction. And then there are all the ways you could utilize your freed-up time. An hour-long commute to work becomes an opportunity to watch a few episodes of your favourite show on Netflix, or to start reading that book you've been meaning to get to.
If I am being honest with myself, though, there is some part of me that feels sad when I consider a future where driving is no longer part of our cultural makeup. Driving holds a lot of associations for many of us, from the first throes of freedom you feel as a teenager who has just received their license, to the feeling you get when get in your car after a long day of work, that sense of having re-entered an environment that is totally your own.
I grew up in a suburban community that bordered farmland. A five minute drive from my childhood home would take you out into the Southwestern Ontario countryside, with old ramshackle Victorian homes and pastures where cows and horses would be grazing. As a teenager, I found real pleasure in taking a drive. It was an opportunity to let your mind empty of other things besides driving; just you and the road.
There is a satisfaction, too, in being able to do something well. Driving is a manual skill, with its own set of rules and challenges. Learning to be a safe driver comes with a real sense of accomplishment, so that when you get behind the wheel of your car, you can feel like you are in your element, like you are in an environment where you know how to conduct yourself.
The future in which driving is no longer something we do is a long way off, and perhaps in the meantime we can appreciate the joys of driving. And the reality is, too, that it is difficult to conceive of what the future of self-driving will even look like, so accustomed are we to driving being a regular feature of everyday life. When that future does supplant the present, there will be a great deal to be joyful about, like less traffic incidents or CO2 emissions! Until then, there are things to appreciate about the way we live now.