Driverless Cars Raise Too Many Questions


It is 2012 and California Gov. Jerry Brown has just now signed legislation legalizing self-driving cars on Golden State highways.

This came at a press conference on Tuesday, beside Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) co-founder Sergey Brin, who has helped develop a fleet of autonomous Toyota Priuses.

It has taken our species more than a century to evolve from horseless carriages to driverless cars; Mr. Brin hints we'll see driverless cars within five years. This is still disappointing to those of us who grew up with the expectation that cars would not only drive themselves by 2012, but would fly.

There are already cars on Mars that drive themselves. Why not Interstate 5?

Audi built a TT-S that drove itself up Colorado's Pikes Peak in 2010, but it has yet go to a McDonald's drive-thru, order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and bring it to me.

Driverless BMWs, Fords, and Volvos are reportedly under development as well. General Motors plans to put out a partially autonomous Cadillac by 2015. But the overall promise of the auto industry has been that automotive transportation will be largely automated by 2040--just in time for my driverless hearse.

At some point in the future, everybody will be able to not drive, no matter how impaired. "Some people have other disabilities, some people are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we're too intoxicated" to drive, Mr. Brin said on Tuesday.

I was unable to attend the press conference, but I did write out a list of questions for Mr. Brin:

* Is Google really that threatened by texting and driving laws that it has to come up with a Prius that drives itself?

* Why Prius? Didn't you see the 2005 movie, "Herbie Fully Loaded"? That Volkswagen drove itself flawlessly, even with Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel.

* Have you ever read the horror novel, "Christine," by Stephen King?

* Are you sure your Toyotas will stop when they slam on their own brakes?

* If my computer crashes, does my car crash, too?

* Will you sell Google-fault car insurance?

* Should Brown change his nickname from Gov. Moonbeam to Gov. Beamer?

* How often do people actually use their "cruise control" now?

* Isn't there already an app for this on the iPhone 5?

* If 40,000 people in the U.S. die in car crashes each year, what are the odds of dying in a car crash once autonomous automobiles are actually available?

* Is it redundant to say autonomous automobile?

* If a self-driving car's gas tank is found to contain ethanol, can the car then be charged with driving under the influence?

* What would be the point of Nascar?

* What would be the point of the bumper sticker, "Hang up and drive"?

* What would be the point of the teenage rite of passage known as parallel-parking lessons? And who said the HOV lane could be Lovers' Lane?

* Will women finally stop complaining when men won't stop for directions?

* Can driverless cars be reprogrammed to blow through red lights, ignore speed limits, cut through traffic using erratic lane changes, and evade law enforcement authorities for nationally televised high- and low-speed car chases?

* When people in self-driving cars get flipped off on the highway, will they understand that it's not them, it's their cars?

* What happens to the music? There's the Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe," Prince's "Little Red Corvette," Eddie Rabbit's "Drivin' My Life Away," Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac," the Who's "Goin' Mobile," Janice Joplin's "Mercedes Benz," and Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55." Of course, you can't drive 55, Sammy. Kick back and have another shot of your Cabo Wabo tequila. The car will drive 55 for you.

* Will "Self Park" be renamed "Selfless Park"?

* Will cars wash themselves instead of just complaining "wash me" in dirty scrawl on their tailgates?

* How many cab and limo drivers will this revolution put out of jobs? What about pizza delivery? What happens to the economy when the valet parking guys are no longer getting tipped? Which job-killing U.S. presidential candidate are you supporting this year?

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at or