December 01, 2023

Letter to the Editor: Self-driving

A rather stupid description of a motor vehicle that drives on its own, without human input, properly programmed to get its passengers safely to their destination. Does a vehicle have a self? But this is a question for another day. My question now is: If I’m in the driver’s seat finishing my third scotch, am I guilty of driving while intoxicated. Yes, I can re-establish control of my machine, but I haven’t. I didn’t run that last red light either, my machine did that on its own. Am I guilty of a traffic violation?

I say no. How can I be guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence if I’m not operating a motor vehicle? How can I be guilty of running a stop sign, if I’m not operating the vehicle? Again I say no. Not guilty.

Is anyone guilty of driving while drunk if the car is operating without guidance from any human? Is anyone guilty of running a stop sign if no one is operating the vehicle? Are you going to convict the vehicle of running the stop sign? And if so, what is the punishment? Interesting questions. I’m sure our current legislatures will come up with something that makes no sense and, in addition, causes people grief unnecessarily. Maybe they can take away its driving privilege for a specific period of time like they do with people.

What they will come up with is that you are required to be sober in a moving, self-driving vehicle in the event of an emergency. Suddenly my vehicle doesn’t see that three-year old standing in the street with a sucker. Am I, the inebriated passenger of that vehicle, required to be paying attention? Why do I need to pay attention if the car is driving itself, it has the destination programmed in, and it will get me there without any involvement from me whatsoever? The answer is clearly — I don’t. So the car runs over the three-year-old — how is that my fault? It’s not.

So punish the car, not me. After all, our legislative bodies find punishment necessary and beneficial. They believe in punishment so now they can punish self-driving vehicles. After all, you really can’t say they are inanimate since they drive themselves. Really, many times there is no reason for anyone to even be in the vehicle — maybe it’s running an errand. Do I need to be in the car when it goes through the pick-up line at the grocery store or through the drive-up liquor store to replenish my supply? No, of course not. So take the car’s driver’s license, not mine. That will make our legislators feel better thinking they actually have accomplished something.

So the solution seems to be to require self-driving machines to have their own driver’s licenses. It will re-establish the idea that driving is a privilege and not a right and make it applicable to machines as well as humans. Seems fair enough. My self-driving machine should not have the right to drive when I only have the privilege.

Richard E. H. Phelps II