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The Globe and Mail

Why I’m driven against self-driving cars (and am turning into my dad)

Steve Patterson is a stand-up comedian, sit-down host of The Debaters on CBC Radio One, producer and host of The Smartass-ociates, author of The Book of Letters I Didn't Know Where To Send, parents' fifth favourite son.

I saw an ad by Lexus that made me think this week. Not about buying a Lexus, mind you (it's just an overpriced Toyota) but about driving in general.

The basic thought behind it was, "Drive while you still can," because self-driving cars are just around the corner and will be here, well, as soon as they figure out how to get around that corner, I guess.

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Which got me thinking, "Would I want to buy a self-driving car?" Which was immediately followed by, "No goddamn way!" Followed by, "Damn, I'm becoming my dad."

Look, I get that self-driving cars are the future. The near future. All the car companies are working on it. Google's working on it. Apple is on it. Even Blackberry is on it! Basically everyone in the technology or automotive industry is coming together to make sure we never have to drive a car again. Which seems weird to me. It's like a food company that sells "previously chewed food" so we don't have to go through the effort of chewing it ourselves. Essentially, baby food for adults. But most adults I know like chewing their own food, just as most adults I know like driving. Hell, even my toddler scrambles into the driver's seat in our car whenever she can, because she knows that's the seat that's in control

(Note: we don't do this while driving. Which I suppose we could in a self-driving car. So, point taken).

Driving is one of the last bastions of control over large machinery most of us have. When I get behind the wheel of a car, I still feel roughly the same as I did when I got my driver's license the day after I turned 16. It's not unlike when the Somalian pirate in the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips says "I'm the captain now!" Although in fairness, me getting into a car is usually a much less hostile situation than the pirate takeover a container ship. But the thought is, "I'm in control of this vessel! I'm going where I want! And I'm going to make 'good time.'" (I hear that last thought in my dad's voice.)

I like the feeling of steering a car in the exact direction I want it to go, travelling slightly faster than the posted speed limit and, if I'm being honest, yelling "constructive criticism" at the other drivers on the road, all of whom are "not as experienced as me" and "drive like total arseholes" (again, full credit here to my dad, John Chester Patterson).

Point is, until all cars on the road are self-driving, it doesn't matter how great the technology is; it's not going to be safe, because humans don't drive like machines. Which, granted, is sometimes horrible, as in the case of careless or drunk drivers, but sometimes is absolutely mesmerizing, as in the case of top-notch race car drivers or bottom-notch parallel parkers.

Sure, self-driving cars will only go the speed limit, always keep a safe distance between themselves and never yell creative obscenities at each other out the window (though this might be a nice option to help ease the transition). But they also test our faith in high-speed technology in the most literal way yet (other than airplanes, elevators, amusement park rides, etc.).

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Look, I just like driving all right?! And you can have my steering wheel when you pry it out of my cold dead hands!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shopping for a new Lexus. If nothing else, to "drive while I still can" and to try to convince myself that I'm not my dad. He's always been a Pontiac man.

With its updated self-driving systems, the new Mercedes E Class coupe can change lanes all on its own. The presence of such semi-autonomous systems in new models is growing as the technology evolves.
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