Guy W. Farmer: Self-driving cars in Carson City

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

As a card-carrying technophobe, I hate self-driving cars and think they should be banned from public streets and highways in and around Carson City, and beyond. What triggered this column was an email I received last week from a friend who encountered a self-driving car on Curry Street. Here is his version of what happened:

“An auto-drive car (with a ‘driver’) came up behind me while going north on Curry Street. I pulled to the center-left of the right lane to turn into Lake Glen’s driveway entrance and waited for oncoming traffic to pass. The road width is not very wide on the remaining right lane at this spot. The auto-drive car didn’t even slow down and just zipped along on my right side at excessive speed for the situation. It was a small car so it passed easily, but it was unnervingly close to my right side as it sped past. I’ll call it a ‘near miss.’”

I think it was a potential traffic accident and urge Mayor Bob Crowell, city supervisors, Sheriff Ken Furlong, District Attorney Jason Woodbury and Assemblyman Al Kramer to look into this situation for the purpose of regulating self-driving cars in Carson City and the Silver State. Technology is moving faster than our ability to control it, and I think this is something our elected officials should be concerned about since public safety is one of their primary responsibilities.

Actually, Woodbury is already looking into this murky issue at my request. “In 2011 the Nevada Legislature enacted a law that enables the operation of ‘autonomous vehicles’ on public roadways in Nevada in some limited circumstances,” he told me. “That law was amended in 2013 and 2017, and is very much a work in progress.” Woodbury noted AB-69, passed last year at the urging of Gov. Brian Sandoval, “prohibits local governments from regulating autonomous vehicles in any way.” But why?

I suspect Tesla’s Elon Musk, who was given multi-million-dollar tax breaks in order to convince him to build a huge battery plant east of Reno, had something to do with the governor’s apparent enthusiasm for self-driving cars; however, uncontrolled, unregulated technology can be downright dangerous.

My guess is one of our local auto dealers took a self-driving car out for a joy ride last week, and that car came dangerously close to my friend who was driving on Curry Street. I love the auto dealers of course because they generate so much tax revenue for Carson, but they shouldn’t unleash driverless cars on us until state and local laws are clarified and strengthened. I’d like to see Kramer introduce a bill to that effect when the Legislature convenes early next year.

A couple of years ago 40-year-old Joshua Brown was killed when his self-driving Tesla crashed into a huge tractor-trailer on a Florida highway; police suspected Brown was watching a movie in the back seat when the crash occurred. More recently, in March, 49-year old bicyclist Elaine Herzberg was killed when she was struck by a self-driving Uber SUV as she walked her bike across a Tempe, Arizona, street. And that’s just the tip of the self-driving iceberg.

In researching this column I learned self-driving cars contain hundreds of computer processors, more than the amount of software in a Chevy Volt, an F-35 fighter and Facebook combined. What could possibly go wrong?

Auto industry “experts” predict there’ll be 20 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. I hope they’re wrong. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. Good luck.

You’ll never see Guy W. Farmer in a self-driving car. He thinks he’s a good driver.


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