By Thomas Day
There is a punk gangbanger group on Facebook called the Yamaha WR250X and WR250R Public Group. I joined this group about two years ago, because their intro FAQ is all about the useful (and not so useful) things that can be done to make the WR250X/R more fun and practical to ride. I left the group this week because the most outspoken members are consistently spoiled brats. Like a lot of bikers/gun nuts/spoiled children and the rest of the crowd who think their “right” to do any damn thing they please overrides public safety, an undisturbed peace, and their neighbor’s property rights, many of these kids consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach. They are classic examples of why motorcycles and motorcyclists are about as popular as used car salesmen in plaid suits or politicians from another state. Between the “I don’t need no stinkin’ endorsement” and the “why would I carry insurance, I’m just a motorcycle” and “why should I care if wheelieing out of control freaks out cagers” attitudes, the group is a sad cartoon of why motorcycles are likely to be historical relics in a decade or less. There are some decent folks in the group, but their voices (like the voice of reasonable motorcyclists everywhere) are drowned out by the goons, brats, and gangbangers.
The last “conversation” I had on the group was about how gangbanging is going to be tough in an autonomous vehicle world. One of the kids claimed “they’ll have to pry my steering wheel away from my cold, dead hands” and a half-dozen or more chimed in accordingly. I asked what they were driving now and got a list of fairly new, mostly-Japanese sedans and mid-sized pickups. I suggested that since all of these vehicles had automatic transmissions and were controlled by transmission and engine computers they weren’t really driving now. Add power steering, backup cameras, parking sensors, ABS brakes, adaptive cruise control and proximity warning systems and you are about 1/2 way to the fully autonomous vehicle. The difference between being a total passenger and a terrible driver in a smarter-than-humans car is immeasurably small. I think it is safe to assume that, based on their motorcycling attitudes, that these kids are awful cagers too.
As macho as the American driver pretends to be, it ain’t gonna take much to remove most of us from the steering wheel. The first and logical step is to crank the shit out of the price of car insurance for those who insist on driving themselves. That will pretty much do the job alone. Cops will be watching the self-piloted vehicles closely, since their business will pretty much dry up on the autonomous side of transportation. They are absolutely not going to be issuing tickets to the corporations that provide the multi-user leases to autonomous vehicle passengers. Not only are corporations “people” but they are people with super-special privileges not to be fucked with. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a cop going after any sort of big business, regardless of how vicious the corporation’s crimes may have been. So, the only ticketing game in town will be the “cold, dead hands” crowd and they will be feeling pretty picked on by the time they hand over the reins to their own autonomous car. I know, you’re thinking “The Geezer is still just pissed off about his damn Volkswagen automatic transmission experience.” True, I’m pissed off at Volkswagen over that nightmare, but I have always disliked automatic transmission cars. They feel patronizing, sort of like having someone pat me on the head, when they put me in an electric wheel chair and say, “Now you’re in charge old dude. The hallway is all yours.”
I think the most insulting vehicle I’ve ever driven was a Toyota rental car with “Sport Shift Mode” thumb shifters. I guess some kid who grew up playing video games might be able to fool himself into believing that he’s “really driving a car” when he can select the gear with a flick of the thumb, but I don’t play video games. The little Corolla had more than enough power to get out of its own way, but the Sport Shift Mode was clunky, intolerant of any high RPM operation, and it felt like an attempt by Toyota’s engineers to convince me to go back to letting the car do the driving. Which I did after a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with the thumb shifters.
Unlike the obtuse kids, I don’t care about driving and I’d just as soon lease a portion of an autonomous car as own a whole car that I have to finance, insure, and drive myself. Cars are boring and I’m a lot happier as a distracted passenger than driving. I can read, sleep, watch the scenery, or write as a passenger. As a driver, I spend most of my energy trying to stay awake. Unlike these kids, if I’m going be stuck behind the wheel I want as much control as I can have, including getting to decide my vehicle’s gear, engine RPM, and the point in the powerband for the situation at hand. I’ve yet to see an automatic transmission or all-wheel drive vehicle do a half decent job on ice or in deep sand and I’ve sure as hell seen those vehicles do a pitiful job in those conditions. So, until I can get at least 95% of an autonomous car, I’m hanging on to my 4WD, manual transmission pickup.
There is nothing cold-dead-handish about this, though. I just don’t like doing things half-assed. If I can get a computer to drive for me, I’m in. If the computer is just there to make me a more distracted, less competent driver, I don’t need that kind of help. But back to the original point of this rant, in an autonomous car world (Coming soon to your town!) motorcycles morbidity/mortality statistics will become an unjustifiably over-represented majority in traffic crashes and the ugly face motorcycling has proudly presented to the public will be something we’re going to wish we’d have done something about when it would have helped.