Never mind robots; let's question human-driven cars

David L. Yas, BridgeTower Media Newswires

From the moment I saw my first gory driver’s ed film, I knew that the simple act of operating a motor vehicle — particularly on the lawless roads of Massachusetts — would be fraught with peril.
But now, my friends, things are scarier than ever. Cars are being operated by automatons, soullessly moving about, guided by nothing that resembles clearheaded human reason and common sense.

What’s that you say? Oh, yes, I have read the latest on driver-less cars in Lawyers Weekly (“Self-driving cars to usher in new age for PI lawyers,” Oct. 3, 2016).

That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I’m actually fine with that.

I’m just wondering if we could please revisit whether allowing … you know … people to drive cars is such a good idea — particularly with an entire generation looking down at their hand-held devices.

One only need peruse the pages of this publication a few months back to get a glimpse at how numb we all are to the carnage. From 2016: “Instantaneous death for motorcyclist who collides with car,” Dec. 19; “21-year-old pedestrian killed by drunk driver,” Oct. 31; “Mother run over, killed in supermarket parking lot,” Feb. 15.

In fact, if I had been around when that German wizard of wheels Karl Benz invented the automobile, I think I would have had a few discerning questions for him.

Return with me, if you will, to 1886. I think it would have gone something like this:

“Hi there, Karl. We missed you at Oktoberfest. Where have you been? You know, I think it’s time to talk about whatever this thing is you’ve got under this canvas here.”


“C’mon, Karl. This thing with the wheels and the pipes sticking out — this contorted apparatus that smells like a science project.”

“Oh, yeah. I call this the automobile. It’s going to revolutionize travel.”

“You don’t say.”

“Sure. People won’t need to ride on horses anymore. We can use them for racing or something.”

“That sounds crazy, Karl. I suppose this thing can go as fast as a horse?”

“Yes, it will. In fact, this will be able to go 100 miles an hour, or even more.”

“Seriously? This complicated mass of steel is going to move that fast? Who’s going to operate these things? Trained Army pilots?”

“No, actually, I thought … well, anyone. It will be a vehicle for anyone.”

“Karl! Are you saying you are going to let any Sam, Harry or Pete fill this thing up with gallons and gallons of petrol and send it flying through the streets at breakneck speeds? Is that safe?”

“Well, I see your point. But we will have training.”

“Oh, well, now you’re talking. Like a couple years on an isolated base, perhaps? An intense curriculum.”

“No, I was thinking maybe a weekly class for a couple months.”

“What? You mean any citizen can just sign up?”

“No, no. Naturally there will be an age limit.”

“I see. I suppose a mature person of, say, 45 years?”

“I was thinking 16, maybe 16 and a half.”

“That young! I certainly hope the government will be in charge of issuing these to only the most responsible people.”

“Actually, my vision is that there will be a whole host of persuasive and sometimes manipulative advertisements suggesting that anyone among us can get one. At a reasonable price. With a very small down payment. Then we’ll talk about renting, leasing …”

“Karl, I need you to slow down here. All that steel and fury blazing through our towns. I don’t mean to sound defeatist, but this sounds insane. Picture these things zig-zagging everywhere!”
“You’re overreacting. I have made sure to include safety features.”

“Good. So if two of these things collide at a high speed, no harm will be done?”

“No harm? Well, there will be some. And at high speed? Hmmm. I’m afraid at high speed you’re toast.”

“Karl, that’s horrifying.”

“Listen, there will be plenty of rules and regulations governing this. For example, it will be unlawful for someone to operate an automobile at a rate higher than 55 miles per hour.”

“Well, that still sounds pretty fast, but at least there is a limit. So the car will be designed to halt acceleration at that point?”

“No, I think we’ll just go with the honor system.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, also, it will be understood that it’s permissible to exceed that speed by 20 percent or so. Like, if you’re in a rush.”

“But any more than that, and we’ll lock the offender away?”

“Right. Or just give him a written penalty indicating that he owes the government some nominal amount.”

“What about if I have a few steins of ale at the pub down the street. Then I set out to operate this automobile of yours. I could wipe out an entire family.”

“Oh, we won’t allow that.”

“Thank goodness.”

“Sure. If someone consumes alcohol and then drives, say, nine or 10 times, we may even have them spend the night in jail.”

“Karl, I have to say I’m concerned. As it is, I believe that dozens of people are killed every year in horseback accidents, horse-drawn carriages and the like. I’m worried that that number might even double with these complicated machines.”

“Well, I think you can expect a bit more than that.”

“How much more?”

“In a country like Germany, about 3,500 a year.”

“Karl, you’ve created a murder machine!”

“Worldwide, you can probably expect about 1.25 million. Eventually.”


“You want one, don’t you?”

“Actually, I’m buying a bicycle. And a helmet. But good luck with your thing.”


Attorney David L. Yas is the president of New England 500 Clubs and the host of The Boston Podcast.