At the intersection of cars, tech, and noise

The soul of driving

Will autonomous cars take the fun out of driving?

September 4, 2016 | | During an auto show tour in 2015, I asked our guide about the advantages of autonomous driving. I couldn't imagine wanting to give up the enjoyment of driving. The tour guide framed the technology as an option - driverless capability allows you to pass on driving if you're too tired to drive or don't want to sit in traffic.

But I still find it difficult to feel enthusiastic about the concept. I'm not scornful towards autonomous driving, but as a prospective owner, driverless capablity would be my last consideration. As an urbanite who mostly hasn't had to drive for years, driving is an option and is almost always associated with increased freedom and great enjoyment. And I grasp that people who have to drive would consider the concept appealing. But when others envision a future with completely autonomous driving - are they thinking in terms of "optional"?

I agree that arguments for the superiority of driverless cars miss certain key considerations. Chief among them is the soul of driving, and to some degree the soul of being driven. 1 2

Driving is such a good way to relax while intently focusing. And being a passenger is the perfect time to just think, daydream, and process the day. When traffic is light, the experience can be meditative and even cathartic. Driving alone on a highway, you can play any kind of music at any volume and sing along, distance yourself from life's stresses, explore alternate personalities, write poetry, and do stuff like this.

By contrast, autonomous cars will provide one more justification for having to be digitally overconnected. Without the need to concentrate on driving, we will be freed up to engage in yet more calls, skype, texts, and email communication. We will have more free time to fill up with work obligations and personal tasks.

As an overconnected culture, we're already grappling with too much connectivity, and we're already missing out on the soul of driving. To actually benefit from the potential to use driving as a meditative or distancing activity, one would have to commit to tuning out devices (which we should all do anyway!) and limiting media to music and the radio.

While automakers compete with and collaborate with Tech, there is talk about reductions in manufacturing jobs and dealership car sales. This is too complex a topic for this space at this time, but I don't think that this is inevitable. For one thing, if online sales is superior to dealership sales, why do customers still visit dealerships? And why does Tesla have "showrooms" rather than operate 100% online?

There is something about the human interaction - however imperfect - that dealerships offer, and that will probably never be adequately replaced by automation or dealerships posing as showrooms.

So what does this have to do with acoustic vehicle alerts? It's a matter of investing in our future. Automakers and agencies such as EPA and NHTSA are investing heavily in autonomous driving research and development, while ignoring deserving but less sexy safety and sustainability concerns. Those who take pride in investment in autonomous driving, mobility solutions, car sharing, and other currently popular sustainability issues, while ignoring easily modifiable aspects of their vehicles that pollute residential, urban, and natural soundscapes, should invest in quieter technology at every opportunity. 3

When it comes to this issue, automakers should set aside their determination to keep up with and work in concert with soulless, ageist, sexist, opportunistic competitors and decide that it's time to do the right thing and get behind quiet by design concepts for every vehicle feature. By all means, invest in driverless cars. But remember that we don't need to be more connected than we already are, and we are smart enough and considerate enough that we don't need to use warning sounds for anything other than emergencies.


  Bill Ford, is the universe trying to tell you something? (July 18, 2016)

  Shouldn't disruptive technologies be... innovative? (June 5, 2016)

  How the other half sleeps (April 27, 2016)

  Profiles in courage, profiles in cowardice (April 4, 2016)

  "Data will set you free" (Updated more frequently)

  Thank you (January 31, 2016)

  Reading list for winter break (December 26, 2015)

  Thank you (November 26, 2015)

  Taking the High Road (November 8, 2015)

Prayer garden   Think - please. (September 26, 2015)

Missouri Botanical Garden   Reclaiming natural and residential soundscapes (September 10, 2015)

Hold the phone, it's Patti LuPone   May we have our attention back please? (July 26, 2015)

Alexey Zajtsev In the Garden   My summer reading list (June 30, 2015)

Maybe this will be the year   Maybe this will be the year! (May 30, 2015)

  Safety myths (April 29, 2015)

  Earth Day 2015 (April 29, 2015)

  Reinvention (April 15, 2015)

  Everyone's problem (March 29, 2015)

  Reading Day (February 12, 2015)

  German Engineering, American Style (February 1, 2015)

  Stronger than you know (January 25, 2015)

  Everything Matters (December 31, 2014)

  One Car, Three Perspectives (November 30, 2014)

  The critics have spoken (October 30, 2014)

  Now you hear it, now you don't (September 30, 2014)

  Closed windows and a wall of buffering sound (August 26, 2014)

  A Curious Coincidence with "Greenest Automaker" Analysis (World Listening Day 2014)

  When did things get so complicated? (July 1, 2014)

  The art and science of locking a car with a remote (June 10, 2014)

  "It's all about me!" (May 25, 2014)


May 20, 2014 | Since Silence the Horns took over the advocacy and lobbying function of this effort, I've turned the main page of this site into a blog. So there you have it, and here it is. If you landed here because you were woken up when someone locked their car, or you miss being able to sleep with the windows open, or you're tired of hearing horns honking from a block away every few minutes on your otherwise quiet street, you've reached the right place. You can do something about it. And you can begin now, or you can begin later. This is not a minor annoyance. It's a sleep depriver and an attention stealer and a safety risk in parking lots and it's a misuse of a safety signal. You can start anywhere, but I'd suggest you start here.

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