The Google Car looks so friendly, doesn’t it? I’ve written here a couple of times about the future of drunk driving prevention and the technology and laws that will be required to eliminate drunk driving entirely. I’ve stated we’ve got several decades to go before we see nothing but drunk-proof cars on the roads. And although we may not ever actually own one, the Google cars show a promising glimpse of future services which prevent drunk driving.
I say we won’t own one because the cars we buy will allow driver intervention no matter how automated they become. This comes from the auto manufacturers themselves. Alan Hall, a communications manager at Ford is quoted as saying
“Our view of the future is that the driver remains in control of the vehicle. He is the captain of the ship.”
“Most cars are used only for an hour or two a day … The rest of the time, they’re parked on the street or in driveways and garages. But if cars could drive themselves, there would be no need for most people to own them. A fleet of vehicles could operate as a personalized public-transportation system, picking people up and dropping them off independently, waiting at parking lots between calls.”
This idea frames the automobile as a service rather than a possession. Think of it as Googling a ride to the mall. Your scheduled or demand-requested ride pulls up and waits for you to get in. You get out at your destination. The car goes away. Simple. One car could provide many rides to different people throughout the day. Of course, the ‘hour or two a day’ that Sergey says we drive is typically the SAME hour or two for most people, getting to and from work. It doesn’t make sense to build enough Google cars to get everybody to work at 7-9am and pick them all up at 3-5pm. That ride will still require some other mass transit or your own vehicle. In fact, many of the Google cars users will probably own cars as well.
But deploying fleets of Google cars for the majority of our other local transportation needs can lead to some interesting possibilities for drunk driving prevention. George Carlin is credited with the line,
“If you shouldn’t drink and drive, why do bars have parking lots?”
Well, what if bars and restaurants that serve alcohol indeed had no parking lots, just drop-off and pick-up zones for Google cars? That would be some serious drunk driving elimination!
But we’ll still have our own cars, we’ll still go somewhere to drink (maybe an party or a friend’s house) and we’ll still be left with the task of getting home. At this point, the Google car is about the same as a cab. You’re getting an anonymous ride home while leaving your car behind. Of course, this is where the designated driver service still comes in handy. But there is something else Google could do to elevate themselves above 99.99% of all taxis. Offer a “Free Ride Back” program.
You’re at the party and you realize your friend who was driving is now drinking. You Google your ride (however we do those things by then) home and select the “leaving my car” option. The Google car knows where you are and alerts you when it arrives. It takes you home and lets you schedule a time the next day to be reunited with your car. It will even remember where your car is if you don’t! At the appointed time, along comes Google car to take you back to where you left your car.
Providing the ride back to your car for free would create an additional incentive to use this tactic when you’ve been drinking. Between ferrying people to and from bars and providing a safe alternative to driving after drinking (that still gets your car home), a fleet of Google cars could clearly accomplish some serious drunk driving prevention one day.