DAVID UNDERCOFFLER

A driving enthusiast can't wait for self-driving cars

David Undercoffler is the Los Angeles bureau reporter for Automotive News

As a kid -- a full decade before he got his own driver's license -- my dad could name the make and model of any car that drove past his house just by the sound. The year he finally did get his license, he also managed to pull off one of the most notorious coups in our family's history: talking my "cars are appliances" grandfather into buying this new two-door model from Ford called a Mustang.

If my old man's enthusiasm was the tinder, access to middle-of-nowhere roads in upstate New York was the spark that sent me into full-fledged car-nerd status. Somehow, I was able to finagle a career -- indeed, a livelihood -- out of driving cars and writing about them.

The 5-, 10-, 20-year-old versions of me were there every time I felt the pull of a Bugatti Veyron's acceleration or the ear-stomping roar of a Corvette Z06.

So what do I say when I hear people talk about cars that drive themselves?

I can't wait.

After a decade in Southern California and the drudgery of driving -- the biggest source of stress, anger and danger in my day-to-day life -- I'm ready for it all to be over.

Car pulls up. I get in the back and work, sleep, daydream or play "Fruit Ninja" while car drives itself. We both arrive safe at destination. Sounds perfect.

I've never understood why most enthusiasts turn into Charlton Heston every time they hear "self-driving," muttering that the industry can have their manually driven car only when it's pried from their cold, dead hands.

Driving for fun when you want and letting the car take over aren't mutually exclusive ideas. We need to stop treating them like they are.

I don't care if you're Mario Andretti or Ed Begley Jr. There's nothing fun about gridlock on the 405 freeway on a Thursday afternoon. Mercedes-Benz had the right idea when it showed off that silver jellybean-shaped F 015 concept car at CES last year: In the 21st century, the ultimate luxury will be time. Any car that can give that back to me is a blessing.

At the same time, manually driven cars will still exist. Thirty years from now, rubber-riding escape artists will still be able to fire up their favorite machine and head out onto the same ribbons of asphalt that give me goose bumps today.

It's just that getting to those roads will be an inherently safer, easier premise for everyone.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @autonews_west

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