The latest entries in the ongoing saga of stupid people ruining things for everyone else is being discussed in the automobile industry right now.

A vehicle's keyless start-stop button.
Start. Stop. Says so right there.

Hot on the heels of the latest crash incident by someone who thinks driver-assist cars are ready to fully drive themselves (and plowed into the back of a truck), comes a CNN Money report that tells of dozens of people who have been injured or killed because they didn’t remember to turn off their cars.  The cars all had keyless entry systems, and the hapless victims apparently didn’t understand that they have to use the keyless entry buttons to turn the car off when they’re done driving.

This, despite the fact that the concept of turning your device off has gone hand-in-hand with the concept of turning it on since the history of switches.  Seriously, who (other than kids) never ever turn things off?  And why are we letting people like that drive?

This is yet another example of the fact that driving a car in the US should not be something that everyone gets to do… because a lot of people are, quite simply, too stupid to do it safely.  It’s also an example of the desperate need in this country to revamp our driver education system to take into account the changes that have developed over the recent decades with car technology, personal technology, traffic, automated systems, and cultural shifts.

I commute to work every day, like a lot of people.  And every day, I struggle to keep myself safe around:

  • People who pay more attention to their cellphones than to the quarter-ton guided missiles they, and everyone around them, are driving;
  • People who can’t manage to stay between the lines in their lanes;
  • People who struggle with turns (because they won’t put their phones down);
  • People who don’t understand the concept of “right-of-way,” the central concept of American driving;
  • People, new to this country, who can’t read the signs around them or don’t know what they mean;
  • People who don’t even slow down for stop signs at intersections;
  • People who stop in the middle of busy roads to pick up or discharge passengers;
  • People who assume that the absence of police is a de-facto okay to travel 25 miles over the speed limit;
  • and on, and on.

A driver, holding a cellphone, burger and drink in his hands, is bearing down on a child in a bicycle.Just last week, I witnessed two drivers approaching a 4-way stop from opposite directions, who didn’t even slow down as they blew through the intersection at full speed within about 3 seconds of each other.  Had any car been traversing that intersection, they would’ve been hit (and at that speed, quite possibly killed) by drivers who clearly were too distracted to know where they were.  I had been about to turn through that intersection, and my wife was with me…so that possibly dead driver and passenger could easily have been us.  This also happened, only a block away, two weeks previous… and again, I was about to enter the intersection.  A few seconds faster and I would’ve been T-boned and (if I was lucky) on my way to a hospital.  It used to be that I saw bad driving behavior like this once in a blue moon; now it pretty much happens in front of me every few days.

Commercials often make fun of these distracted drivers, and gleefully show the little fender-benders they get into.  The reality is that distracted drivers maim and kill other drivers, passengers and pedestrians on a horribly regular basis.  And after such incidents, few of them get jail time… most pay a fine with a credit card… then their insurance company buys them another car.

American roads are too dangerous to handle this kind of BS.  But since we don’t seem to be able to take cars off the roads, or prevent stupidity, we should be doing the next best thing: Taking driving out of the hands of people.

A woman relaxes and reads her phone while her car drives on full automation.

We need to be doing everything we can to fund, encourage and cooperate with efforts to turn our roads into the domain of self-driving vehicles and connected traffic systems.  Automating our vehicles means putting in systems that are faster than humans in sensing and reaction time, interconnected and therefore prescient about what other vehicles are about to do, and intelligently tied to roadway and traffic systems to monitor proper and improper driving on the roads.

Automation is getting incredibly close to being able to do the driving for us; we need to aggressively fund better sensory equipment, better-programmed driving systems and improved obstacle identification and avoidance systems, to reach a point where the possibility of an automated vehicle striking anything is all but unheard-of.

As our population gets older, more distracted, less familiar with our road systems, and just plain stupid, cars and trucks must step up and relieve the burden of the dangerous act of driving from us.  It’s the only way to keep Americans mobile and safe on our crazy, congested roads.