Aug 16, 2019 - Technology

Don't expect Carmageddon to kill driving anytime soon

Photo of a red Porsche on a winding road overlooking the ocean

Photo: Kian Eriksen/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Carmageddon is upon us: Before we know it, robo-cars will be ubiquitous and crowd out human-driven cars.

What they're saying: After all, Elon Musk has said that buying anything other than a Tesla that can drive itself will be as financially insane as owning a horse. But horses survived, and driving will too.

Reality check: Automated vehicles will change our lives and our cities — hopefully for the better — by reducing traffic fatalities and making it easier to move from A to B.

  • But it'll be decades before they arrive in significant numbers, and when they do, they'll be confined to cities, catering to commuters, tourists and urban dwellers.

What's happening: Taking a realistic look at the industry, most experts say...

  • The first automated semi-trucks on highways could arrive in the next few years.
  • Urban delivery vehicles, and then robotaxis, could arrive next. But, they will be confined to certain neighborhoods and limited to good driving conditions.
  • Widespread deployment is many years away.
  • Meantime, the rest of us will still be driving — though our cars will make it easier with highway-assistance features like Tesla Autopilot or Cadillac Super Cruise.

Key stat: Americans spend nearly an hour each day behind the wheel, traveling 220 miles per week in 2017, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

  • If it feels like you're driving more, it's true: compared to 2014, U.S. drivers spend an additional 20 minutes driving each week.
  • As many of us know, commuting can be a nightmare.

But "commuting is not driving," argues McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, which insures collector cars and boats and who will forever be a driver. "It's almost a different act."

"Never Stop Driving," a book for which Hagerty wrote the epilogue, is an antidote for the autonomous era.

  • It celebrates cars and culture — everything from collecting and restoring old cars to racing and car clubs.
  • "It's fun to put away the phone, clear your head, and enjoy a 'whole person' experience rather than being digitally distracted," Hagerty tells Axios.
  • Cars have their own social network, after all, as this week's Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance reminds us.

Between the lines: Digital music didn't kill vinyl records, and automation won't kill driving, Hagerty says.

  • "Cars have been around for 120 years, and they didn’t make horses go extinct. They just took them out of city centers."

Speaking of "Never Stop Driving," the book's stunning photos alone will stir your desire to go out for a ride.

Details: One of my favorite chapters is called "My Last Drive."

  • It's loosely modeled after a chef's parlor game called "The Last Meal," in which cooks discuss the ideal menu for their final dining experiences.
  • The authors asked some notable car enthusiasts including Jay Leno, Mario Andretti and Patrick Dempsey to describe their perfect final time behind the wheel — where would they go, in what vehicle and with whom? It's a fun thought exercise.

My thought bubble: My final drive would be in a red Mazda Miata, with the top down, and my husband by my side. It would have to be along the water somewhere — perhaps M-22 along the gorgeous coast of Lake Michigan or California's Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Better yet, I'd rather go somewhere I've never been. Just press the accelerator and go. Final destination? Who cares?
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