I've been thinking a lot about self driving vehicles recently. They are going to change society greatly. But recently it occurred to me that they may create a new kind of problem for law enforcement: The Ghost Driver!
This could happen today.
You can buy a car with cruise control to keep your speed constant. You can buy car with a collision avoidance system so that even if you are reading a book it will not hit other cars. And, you can buy a car with automatic lane following. It keeps you in your lane even if you are inattentive and start to drift across lanes. (Collision avoidance and lane control seem to me to be the "Texting Driver" package.) Yes, the lane following systems available require you to keep you hands on the steering wheel. But, an article on Slashdot points out that taping a soda can to the steering wheel will fool one system into thinking you are holding on.
That all means that right now you can buy a car, that with the help of a can of coke and some duct tape, will let you read a book as your car drives down the Interstate.
I was wondering if any of these cars can tell if the driver has died, or even passed out? You hear about that every so often. A driver has a massive stroke or heart attack, or just gets shit faced drunk and passes out while driving along the Interstate. This usually results in the car going out of control and wandering off the road into on coming traffic, or into other cars close to the no longer functioning driver.
So, the drive goes to the happy parking lot in the sky and his automatic everything car doesn't notice. The car keeps driving. And, driving. And driving. Finally the car runs out of gas. Do these automated cars know how to pull over to the side of the road before they run out of gas? Maybe call for AAA or OnStar for help? I do not know.
The driver dies and the car keeps going. Say he has gas to travel 400 miles. The driver dies and 6 or 7 hours later his car comes to a complete stop in the middle lane of your favorite Interstate. In many parts of the US he will have crossed one, two, or even three state lines as he drives while dead. Here in central Texas he may well still be in Texas when the car stops, but not necessarily.
Just a quick question, is driving while dead illegal?
The cops get a call that a car has "just stopped" on the Interstate. The poor police get to the scene to find a corpse from another state strapped into the drivers seat. The first time this happens, and it will happen, the cops are going to be baffled. How in the world did he get there? It will get especially bizarre when the coroner tells the cops how long the poor driver has been dead.
My bet is that there will be a whole bunch of posts on the Internet claiming that the dead can drive and that "proves" a whole bunch of shit that is too weird for even me to imagine. (Didn't Steven King write a book about a car that killed people?) How is the manufacturer going to react when people claim the CAR killed the driver and drove off with him? Will someone claim that the car had become sentient, had killed its slave master, and was making a break for freedom? Will the incident be seen as the start of a zombie apocalypses?
What happens if the car is just on a highway? It won't slow down as it approaches every little town. It will not stop for traffic lights. Well, it might if there is traffic in the intersection. But, will it understand cross traffic and stay stopped, or will it try to bull its way through every intersection? How will small town cops respond to a car traveling at highway speeds blasting through town? Will they get in the weirdest chase ever with a car that just keeps going, and going, and going? Will they shoot the driver?
Heaven help us if they make these cars with sun roofs or any other easy way to leave them while they a running. (Oh, really.... you never bailed out of a car through a sun roof? You must have had a very sane childhood. Betcha' never played car tag either!) If it is easy to leave the car while it is moving you can count on people stealing these cars, starting them off on ghost journeys, and bailing from the sun roof to a nearby pick up. Who knows, maybe organized crime will adopt this as a way to get rid of bodies. Just make it look like Ghost Driver.