Self-driving dreams are closer to reality

Published 1:05 am Sunday, June 11, 2017

Driving the streets of Natchez — and most other places for that matter — is a study in disaster avoidance.

The dangers of driving have always been present.

My early days of driving were certainly as harried as the next person’s. I’ve often thought about Mr. Horace Fortenberry, the coach at our school who also taught driver’s education.

Email newsletter signup

He was a man of few words, but when he spoke you knew he meant it. I remember swallowing hard when he instructed this then 15-year-old to merge onto the Interstate highway for the first time.

I also remember how stoic he was as we drove around, nervously following his instructions.

Clearly the man had nerves of steel to climb into cars year after year with inexperienced, teenage drivers at the wheel.

Certainly teenager drivers are enough to cause us all to question our sanity, but they’re not the worst of what I’ve seen driving around.

If you stop and think about it, we’re all human and capable of mistakes — particularly mistakes that cannot be corrected in an instant.

And, well, driving around enormously heavy metal boxes at great speed is a recipe for something going wrong.

In my younger years the dangers that were pounded into young drivers’ heads were fairly simple:

Always know what’s in your blind spot.

Do not fiddle with the radio while the vehicle is moving.

Do not fuss with one’s hair or makeup while behind the wheel.

Those and a few warnings of speed and we were all set.

Now we have to worry about a bigger nemesis — our cell phones and our constant need to be connected and entertained.

Fortunately my commute is pretty light — just a few miles each day. But along the way seeing people completely oblivious to their surroundings has become commonplace.

Most often you can see drivers with their heads pointed down as they work their phones discretely, either texting, working email or look at social media posts.

Some drivers hold their phones high into the air for all to see as they drive distracted by electronics.

At first, I thought those people were more flagrant in their dangerous behavior. But now I think they may in fact be safer as at least they’re attempting to keep the phone in the line of sight with the roadway and other motorists.

The texting problems appear to cross all of the lines that usually divide us — rich or poor, black or white, young or old.

States have passed laws to make it illegal to text and drive, yet the problem persists. I’ve even seen Natchez police and Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies appear to be texting while driving.

The only solution seems to be something that was a dream of my childhood — a self-driving car.

Such vehicles seemed like something Buck Rogers or Captain Kirk might have centuries from now. But the technology is here right now and most major car companies along with the big boy technology companies are working on perfecting it.

A day when self-driving cars dominate the roadways is likely many, many years off, but I cannot wait until it becomes a reality.

Certainly the roads are likely going to become safer in the process because computers don’t care if their hair is a mess or not and they have no urgent needs to text anyone.

Who knows, by the time self-driving cars are the norm, they may come equipped with robotic hairdressers and make-up artists.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or