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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

June 3, 2013 at 1:48 PM

Guess what one thing would make this racing school founder want a driverless car

A driverless car by Google takes a spin around a track. (Flickr photo by Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons license)

A driverless car by Google takes a spin around a track. (Flickr photo by Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons license)

Driverless cars sound like a dream for a lot of people who just want to get from point A to point B.

But what if you just love to drive?

As head of the ProFormance Racing School in Kent, Don Kitch Jr. might get behind the wheel of anything from a Porsche to a BMW 535. He knows better than most why driving is about more than transportation. It’s about freedom, independence and fun.

That’s a big reason why commuting is a tough habit to break, no matter how efficient cities make other forms of transit.

While I was researching my column about how driverless cars would (and wouldn’t) kill congestion, I called Kitch up to chat. My husband, who learned to drive a manual transmission after watching seasons and seasons of British car show “Top Gear,” took a spin on the ProFormance track last year.

Are driverless cars the enemy?

“My initial reaction was, ‘My God, don’t take my car away from me!’ ” Kitch said. “But really, we’re not that far from [driverless cars]. Our cars today, it’s so easy to almost be a passenger already. You’re almost just along for the ride.”

I’m no auto expert, but I could see his point. Compare cars today with cars 60 years ago. Humans do less. Auto locks. Auto windows. Automatic transmission. Not to mention newfangled things you’ll find in some models, like parking assist, which eases parallel parking, and adaptive cruise control, which brakes and accelerates for you in a traffic jam.

What Kitch said next surprised me. One reader of my Sunday column smartly suggested that texting and smartphones have already made many cars driverless. Kitch likes driving too much to ever want a driverless car, he told me. But what would make him reconsider — more than safety, efficiency and traffic flow — is the prospect of safely recapturing productive time.

“The biggest challenge we have right now is DWD — driving while distracted,” Kitch said. “As hard as I try to not fall into DWD mode, I do. [The phone] is there, I’m busy, I’m trying to do lots of tasks.

“If you took the time to look around and see the number of people on cellphones, texting, they can’t get out from underneath it.”

Kitch also acknowledged the safety add. Commercial airliners use lots of autopilot features to ensure safety in the event of … well, all kinds of things. If the combination of human and driving machine works in the air, why not on the road?

Seen a story that caught your eye re: digital life? Email me at mguzman@seattletimes.com or reach me on Twitter or Facebook.

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