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Mullen, Jim

Jim Mullen

I can't wait to get a self-driving car. I know most people hate the idea; they want to drive themselves. But I have never been a very good driver.

I've never been in an accident, but it's finally dawning on me how many of my friends volunteer to drive for me after they spend a few minutes in my passenger seat, stamping down on the nonexistent passenger-side brake pedal.

My attention wanders. Four-way stops confuse me. Does that guy in the Honda really think he got to this intersection before me? I don't think so, pal. So we both ease on into the intersection, eyeing each other, until a third car sails between us out of nowhere.

If I do the speed limit on the freeway, I'm in danger of getting rammed, because nobody does the speed limit. It's either bumper-to-bumper traffic or 15 mph faster than what's posted. Something evil in me always hopes that the guy who just zipped past me, weaving in and out of traffic, will either get a ticket or get in a nasty one-car accident. My true fear is that he'll get in a multicar accident and hurt or kill someone.

I'm sure we all know someone, or know of someone, whose life has been changed by a traffic accident. Every now and then, you'll hear a talking head on TV mention how many people a year are killed in automobile accidents. But rarely do they tell you how many people were injured in car accidents. I don't want to totally bum you out with a number ... just Google it and trust me, you'll be shocked.

Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot, usually when one gets in an accident. But think how many human-driven cars get in accidents every single day. I think I'm more scared of humans than machines. The other day a car turned on to a busy street right in front of me, cutting me off. After I swore and gestured at the driver, I realized my right blinker was on. He thought I was turning in, not going straight. We both made stupid mistakes -- me with the blinker, the other guy for trusting a human.

I'm tired of being honked at when I block traffic trying to parallel park. Not only can I not do it, I had to look up how to spell parallel. Should I be behind the wheel at all?

The sad thing is that, as bad a driver as I am, there are many out there who are worse. And it's not even the interstates and highways that scare me: It's the mall parking lots. We all know that every time you find an empty parking spot next to the front entrance, an angel gets his wings, but everybody seems to have the same idea. Pedestrians, shopping carts, rambunctious children, SUVs in reverse, cargo doors opening, two cars gunning for the same space -- what could possibly go wrong? It's like watching one of those "Mad Max" movies without all the eye patches. You just know it's not going to end well for most of the cast.

When the price of self-driving cars comes down, when they stop spontaneously combusting, and when they make them idiot-proof, I'll be in the market for one. But even then, things will go wrong. As every commuter knows, regular cars break down all the time. Even the smartest car can have a tire blow out, or have a stone crack the windshield, or collide with a deer. But a self-driving won't ram the car in front of it because it spilled coffee in its lap, or because it was fiddling with the radio. It won't be bothered by the sun in its eyes. It won't rubberneck. If the traffic is heavy, it will automatically try to find a faster detour. It can parallel park.

Best of all, it will detect human drivers like me and avoid them.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com

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