George Sarant

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Archive for March 2018

THE FUTURE OF THE AUTOMOBILE

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Not so long ago one could routinely observe several vehicles pulled over on the side of a highway due to mechanical breakdown. Today that is a rare site. These days there are very few bad cars on the the road. This unheralded improvement in quality has been overshadowed by anticipated changes, one reasonable, and the other less so.

There is a general consensus that the cars of the near future will be electric-powered and self-driving. Only one of these predictions, the electric car, is likely to be realized as anticipated. But this is hardly a breakthrough in transportation, and the supposed economic and environmental benefits are not very clear. Since something has to generate the electricity to power these vehicles it means that a substantial amount of energy is still being expended in some way, if indirectly, and the benefit clearly depends on how the electricity is being produced.

There is still nothing as efficient and reliable as the internal combustion engine, and that is the reason why most autos still run on gasoline. If that were not the case everyone would be driving electric cars now. But oil is still plentiful an cheap and without massive government subsidies and pressure electric cars would still not be viable.

But this does entail a paradigm shift. Now you fill your tank as needed based on your own choice. When electric cars predominate, the production of energy will be offloaded, centralized, and outside of our control. Nevertheless there are other advantages to electric vehicles, notably in terms of emissions, as long as the alternative energy production is significantly cleaner, which is by no means certain. Furthermore if there were to be massive automotive electrification, and it were to become the predominant method for powering cars, the cost of gasoline would tumble as a result due to reduced demand, which means that petroleum would be an even greater bargain than it is now.

The term self-driving car is an oxymoron based on the Greek and Latin roots of automobile, which already means self-driving. On that basis if driverless cars were to become ubiquitous, logically self-driving cars would be those still operated by humans. However, I don’t think this is ever going to happen everywhere. It certainly will happen in older, denser large cities, where there would be pronounced efficiencies in only using a car when needed. But while these urban dwellers might not need to own a car, most everyone else still does.

The implications of driverless cars don’t seem to have been fully thought out, due to an almost blind faith in the superiority of technology. But there are abilities that humans possess that machines are unlikely to ever have. For example, experienced drivers have an extra sense, almost an instinct as to what the surrounding drivers are likely to do. They can anticipate how others will move with amazing accuracy. They can intuit what another drivers intentions are. Think of driving on a highway alongside a car to your right, which hasn’t yet signaled or doesn’t bother to, yet, somehow you know they intend to pass in front of you. Or the way you know that the car in front of you is likely to make a left turn before they even turn on their signal.

If we did not have this sense there would be far more accidents than there are. It is like anything we do well without really thinking about it, having subconsciously absorbed the method, like walking. There is just no way a machine can accurately sense the trajectory of cars around them based upon a sense of the other driver. Most cars are equipped with automatic cruise control, but hardly anyone uses it consistently, and it is quite likely that driverless vehicles will suffer the same fate.

Written by georgesarant

March 31, 2018 at 12:51 AM

DON’T DRIVE IN NYC II

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The other day I had just crossed the border between Long Island and NYC when I was pulled over for allegedly speeding, doing 70 mph. Now since everyone else at the time was doing around 65 mph in a 50-55 mph zone, whatever the speed limit it didn’t seem like much. Just prior to that some moron in front of me was talking on a cell phone and driving erratically and slow in the left lane. When he finally pulled over I accelerated for all of 10 seconds to catch up with the traffic, and that is presumably when I was “speeding.”  Obviously when you stray from the herd you are at risk, but if anyone should have gotten a ticket is was the cell phone dude.

After waiting an interminably long period of time for the cop to do his paperwork, he came back with the ticket saying I was doing 71.  By doing that he put me in a higher speed category at great cost. The measurement was thus highly questionable, and certainly disputable, but I shrugged it off, as whenever possible these days I try to just let things go and avoid hassles, as part of the random cost of living here.

However, when I looked at the ticket I found that I had gotten 6 points  and a $300 fine, all of which was far out of proportion the the alleged offense. Then to make matter worse, as I read further it turned out I also had to pay yet another $300 for a “Driver Responsibility Assessment” NY now tacks on, even with a clean prior driving record. So I now had to pay $600 for a few seconds of “speeding.” So then I thought this time I have to appeal, but as I read further on the ticket it stated that you can appeal if you want but if you do your fine may be increased.  The message is thus clear- don’t even think about appealing this. Further, this really has nothing to do with speeding or traffic safety and everything to do with revenue; but obviously not for roads since they are still awful.

From long experience I know that it is now impossible to beat a ticket in NYC. For example, one night we were at a Lincoln Center concert, and when it was over we found the car was gone. It had been towed away for allegedly parking at a bus stop.; except that there was no sign anywhere in sight and the actual stop was much further down the block. So before picking up the car and  paying a few hundred dollars for the tow alone, we took several photos of the location, of the signs, the street, and the buildings, as I had every reason to appeal. When I did, I mailed in the photos and then even printed photos from Google maps of the location so that no one in their right mind could question it. Nevertheless it was turned down with the ridiculous statement that the evidence didn’t prove anything and it could be anywhere, never mind that was specific to that location.  But again, it had little to do with the offense and everything to do with revenue. I don’t go out at night as much as I used to in the city because if I do I have to either pay more than $50 for parking or a cab, and even if parking in a spot that appears to be legal, can still get a ticket.  BTW virtually all the other tow offenders where from out of town using rental cars and were clearly targeted, so be forewarned.

The city is now so anti-car it simply doesn’t pay to own a vehicle or drive, which is exactly what they want; at least from a Manhattan-centric point of view, never mind what car-owners need in the other four boroughs. I’ve been driving here since I was 17 and this is the worst it’s ever been. I don’t want to give up my car, or my house, but life is now at a state-sponsored intolerable level. But if they add tolls to the Brooklyn Bridge I am gone.

So again, be advised, don’t drive here, and if you don’t have to work here avoid coming altogether.

Written by georgesarant

March 29, 2018 at 7:53 PM