If you’ve been following automotive news with any sort of regularity, you’re likely familiar with the concept of autonomous (or self-driving) cars. That is the goal of the car industry — to one day build artificially intelligent vehicles that can navigate their way through traffic without the intervention of human pilots. Makes sense, since people are generally lousy, distracted, reckless, unruly and often intoxicated drivers.
Now, when we talk about self-driving cars, we only marvel at the prospect of futuristic motoring worthy of the Jetsons. And we only focus on the obsolescence of driving. What we fail to realize is that fully autonomous vehicles could also signal the end of individual car ownership. They’re eliminating driving because, eventually, there won’t be any need to buy cars. We will all just be passengers in a ride-sharing world. Unsolvable traffic issues around the globe will make sure of that.
And so it has begun: We are now gradually being encouraged to start imagining an ideal environment where we don’t operate motor vehicles. Several industry events I attended this year, in fact, showcased technologies that pointed the way to autonomous driving. In one exercise, I drove an SUV that just wouldn’t allow me to hit any object while parking or changing lanes. It will only be a matter of time before the same SUV won’t allow us to even touch its steering wheel.
To bolster the legitimacy of my conspiracy theory, I’ve compiled the top motoring headlines of 2017 and all of them subliminally prime us for the day when we no longer own and drive cars.
There’s the revision of automotive excise tax, increasing the prices of many mass-market car models (while making luxury vehicles more affordable for 1% of the population). That’s just the beginning. With the tax reform, gasoline and diesel will likewise become more expensive in the next three years.
Also, remember that our Department of Transportation asked for Singapore’s help in solving Metro Manila’s traffic problem. The measures being looked at include taxing the use of main roads. So the objective is obvious: Make car ownership as costly as possible. Before long, the public will lose all taste for status-enhancing automobiles.
And then there’s the polarizing showdown between the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and transport network companies like Uber and Grab. With paid social media influencers leading the national conversation on this issue, even car owners were surprisingly okay with the idea of just opening the floodgates for ride-sharing app providers — to hell with the rule of law. And that’s probably because said car owners were already tired of driving and they just wanted to use Uber cars.
Speaking of Uber, after its drama-filled clash with the LTFRB in August, the company unleashed what I can only imagine to be a well-funded marketing campaign called “Unlocking Cities,” for which it paid a number of popular Web sites to spread its “owning cars is bad” doctrine. There is no more road space for brand-new cars, the campaign pointed out. Time to give them up and just consider ride-sharing. Of course, Uber isn’t really interested in decongesting our streets. What it really wants is for its countless cars to be the ones to clog the megalopolis. Ka-ching, in other words. But the deed was done: Hundreds of thousands of Internet users who saw the campaign’s well-produced video were subconsciously planted with the seeds of a society without privately owned cars.
Another prominent motoring news item this year is the cheating scandal that hit Japanese automakers and their suppliers. Apparently, they had been falsifying certifications for quality control and fuel economy. That’s on top of the faulty air bags they had been equipping our vehicles with. If even the most honest nation can’t be trusted to build us safe and efficient cars, whom else can we trust? How can we now drive our sedans with complete confidence that their air bags won’t shoot deadly shrapnel at us in the event of a collision? Translation: Why bother buying cars whose quality is suspect?
What about the Anti-Distracted Driving Act finally becoming a law? It’s as though our government was making us choose between using our mobile phones and driving our cars. Checking Facebook or focusing on the road? Watching YouTube or minding the car in front? Browsing Instagram or being alert to pedestrians? For many people with an inexplicable FOMO — that’s fear of missing out for my nonmillennial readers — the choice is a no-brainer: No more driving if it means being kept from glancing at their smartphones for more than three minutes.
Ah, and then there’s Waze, the community-based navigational app whose 2017 Driver Satisfaction Index placed the Philippines at the very bottom of its rankings. Which means our republic is the worst place in the world for driving with its gridlock, road rage, potholes and traffic mismanagement. If that doesn’t ruin the appeal of driving for you, you’re stupid.
Finally, there’s Maria Isabel Lopez, who got her license revoked for illegally using the special lane reserved for participants of the 31st ASEAN Summit, and then bragging about it in an infuriating Facebook post. I mean, do you really want to share the road with cretins who won’t think twice about breaking traffic rules for convenience’s sake?
All of these motoring stories in the past 12 months served as undeniable signs that car ownership is soon coming to an end. Want more proof? In 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that it was finally allowing its women to drive. Why do I have this feeling that the Arabs know something is about to go down?