When we drove over to Pasadena on Tuesday night for the Scalzi & Doctrow event, we thought we would be late because of a massive traffic tie-up.
For those of you who are familiar with LA, we were going from Woodland Hills to Pasadena, a straight shot on the 101/134/210 Freeway. (You have to live here to understand.) However, on the 5 Freeway, just south of the 134, there had been a massive accident. Multiple fatalities, burning trucks, all lanes blocked.
For those of you who are not familiar with LA, just assume that every stereotype you’ve ever seen in film or on television about LA traffic was true that day. In spades.
But we could go in the carpool lane! Mile after mile we went at about 50 mph while to our right were four and five lanes of traffic that was moving at less than walking speed.
Eventually even the carpool lane bogged down, although we were at least moving with the usual 5 mph “stop and go” traffic.
The woman behind us caught my attention. Actually, what caught my attention was her white Lexus lurching forward time after time and stopping just inches away from our back bumper. What the hell was her problem?
Well, the first problem was that she wasn’t looking out the windshield. At all. EVER. She was obsessed with something in the back seat, twisting in her seat and reaching for it. For a good five minutes. She. NEVER. EVER. Looked. Up.
Yet a dozen, two dozen times or more, traffic would move, her car would accelerate and then brake HARD to stop about 0.01 microns from our back bumper. How were we so lucky? How was she spending all of that time turned backwards in her seat yet not hitting us?
The answer was obvious once I realized it. Her car was new, expensive, and no doubt had every bell and whistle on the market.
Including the automatic breaking system.
$100 says that she knew that and was deliberately dealing with things other than driving, assuming with deliberate forethought that the car would stop on its own.
I would feel better if I thought that it was a vehicle with an AI system built in that was specifically designed to be the next best thing to a self-driving car. A Tesla can do that – maybe Lexus was getting close to the same thing?
But I didn’t see any sign that the vehicle was anything other than a run-of-the-mill luxury sedan. Which tells me that, even though it might not have been designed that way, she was letting the car drive itself in that circumstance.
The Law of Unintended Consequences at work. And fortunately, our back bumper still intact. For today.