“It’s a legal minefield for car companies to program their cars to kill other people”

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Tim Keen

ow much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight, Tyler Durden once pondered.

By the same logic, how much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never crashed a car?

Crashing a car sucks. (Accidentally, at least – demolition derbys are kind of awesome.) But until you’ve crashed one, you’ll always be left wondering: how would I respond under that sort of pressure? What would my life look like in flashback? What do airbags taste like?

French tightrope-walking-guy Philippe Petit – the bloke who walked between the World Trade Centre towers – said, “Life should be lived on the edge of life”, which probably sounds less redundant in French. But for a crazy French ginger, he makes a valid point: motorsport is only thrilling because of the risk of crashing. Adrenaline only comes with the possibility of disaster.

It’s that electric frisson that leaves your palms sweaty, your undercarriage electrified, and your boxer shorts just a little bit brown. If you never overstep the line, you’re not standing close enough to the edge.

Perhaps you pride yourself on your excellent driving record.

“I haven’t had a crash in years”, you sniff. But then, all the money you spend on insurance has been for nought. Your return on investment is zero. And what good’s that? If your driving record was a publicly traded company, the board would fire you and put a Bangkok tuk-tuk driver in charge. At least that way they’d see some returns when he stuffed your car into a hedge on day one.

And anyway, crashing cars stimulates the car industry.

Nothing encourages you to buy a new car more than writing off your old one. Too late for us, I hear you grumble, but of course it’s not – as brands fight for market share, and dealers get incentivised to undercut each other, the whole industry becomes a bubble which, of course, eventually bursts and companies are forced to merge to survive; and eventually every car on Earth ends up being produced by Geely and made by soldering bits of old Volvos together. Is that what you want? Is it?

It’s partly the auto industry’s fault, with their autonomous braking and lane control assist and whatnot – no wonder people are keeping cars for years and years, instead of absent-mindedly sticking them up the back of a taxi and buying a new one. And it’s only getting worse – what with Google and whoever else trying to perfect the autonomous car. And autonomous cars throw up a new slew of crashing conundrums.

Picture this: You’re in your self-driving car on the Great Ocean Road when, out of nowhere, a truck comes around a blind corner on your side of the road, overtaking a peloton of lycra’d masochists. Should the car be programed to aim for the truck, killing you, or the cyclists, killing them? It’s a legal minefield for car companies to program their cars H to kill other people – but who wants to buy a car designed to kill its owner? That’s why crashing cars should be left to the experts: us humans.

Look, Australia doesn’t need more high-speed crashes. They’re just awful for everyone. What we need is more low-range bingles, the suburban equivalent of rams butting heads in mating season. Thankfully, the state road authorities are doing their part, with their obsession on speed limits aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator, and then banning competent drivers who dare to drive to the conditions. The brilliant result is a steady influx of drivers who have very little expected of them, and are capable of precisely that. They’re doing their part. How about you?

Or maybe Tyler Durden is an idiot. That’s possible too. M