Flying Cars Means Flying Drivers

You may not know this, but a couple years ago the flying car was invented. If you don’t believe me, google it. It isn’t quite like the flying car of George Jetson–it’s more like a little airplane you can drive to the airport and home again. This has some technophiles, aviation enthusiasts, and motorheads pretty excited, and for good reason–it’s a pretty cool gadget, especially for only 200,000 dollars or so. That said, let us pause for a minute and ask ourselves: are flying cars a good idea?

If you need help considering this idea, let me help you out: flying cars means flying drivers.

You know drivers–those people you curse at on the interstate every day? Those assholes who cut you off in traffic or rear-end you at stoplights or who turn left from the right hand lane or who don’t know how to use turn signals or rotaries or their gas pedal? Remember those people?

Should this man really have his pilot's license?

Do we really want those jackasses flying through the goddamned air?

Science fiction futurescapes are regularly awash in flying cars. Scenes of incredibly complex skyways clogged with high-speed antigravity skimmers and hovercrafts and what-have-you are, in many ways, synonymous with the future and where we’re headed. What isn’t really considered, however, are the consequences of all those vehicles flying through the air.

Consider this: According to the  US Census Bureau, there were 10.2 million car accidents in 2008 alone and, in those accidents, 39,000 people lost their lives. This is for ordinary, terrestrial automobiles driving on roads with guardrails, embankments, rumble strips, street lights, and so on and so forth. Ten million accidents, and all the drivers needed to worry about were two dimensions of traffic.

So, say you were to add a third dimension to this. Make cars fly like in the Jetsons or the Fifth Element–let’s say they can make the technology cheaply enough and cities can redesign themselves around it to some extent. Do the number of accidents go up or down, do you think?  

  Let’s be honest, here–it would be a public safety disaster. Not only would you still have the same number of goons crashing into one another, but now, after they crash, they don’t just stop, but fall from the sky in a fiery ball of steel, glass, and screaming people. Also, they don’t just fall onto some street below–they crash through your roof, they careen into school gymnasiums during assembly, they hit power plants. Fatalities go way, way up, even if the number of accidents stay the same.

All it takes is one drunk, and whammo--there goes the neighborhood.

Even if we spot these new-fangled flying contraptions with high-end navigational computers that mostly control the vehicle, that can’t be relied upon to completely ensure that horrible accidents won’t happen. Say we cut the numbers by two thirds to account for AIs controlling the cars (which strikes me as optimistic, but whatever), that still leaves a good 3.3 million accidents and, since they happen in mid-air, they’re far more destructive than the ones on the ground. Can you imagine 3.3 million small plane accidents every year? To put it in perspective, there are fewer than 100 such accidents per year today.

The reason it gets so deadly (and the reason it isn’t now) is because flying cars makes average people into pilots and asks them to fly around dense urban areas. We can presume getting a license would be harder, but since when does having a license prevent people from driving cars? The problem here isn’t so much the flying part as it is the idea of cars that fly. Cars are personal transportation devices, available to just about everybody, and driven by the directive of the operator. Modern pilots, in addition to extensive training, need to file flight plans before they go off somewhere, need to obey control tower commands, and, above all, aren’t flying between buildings. Flying cars are, essentially, like having the Return of the Jedi speeder bike chase happening all the time, except instead of trees, they’re zooming around apartment buildings, Walmart, and IHOP.

So please, future people, don’t pine for the flying car. I pay enough insurance as it is, thanks.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on September 5, 2011, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I was talking about flying cars with some people recently. This is more or less what I concluded, in slightly different terms: the real stop-gap for flying cars isn’t technology so much as driving laws. How do you regulate that and make it safe? How do you transition society to that? You’ve now got to think of what could in three dimensions, not just 2, and that adds a hell of a lot more problems! At least when society went from horse and buggy to cars the roads and basic principles were the same, just the vehicle was different.

  2. I rather love this line: “but since when does having a license prevent people from driving cars?” It’s an excellent point, of course, but you forgot to mention that it’s opposite is also true—*not* having a license also does not prevent people from driving. Think of the joyriding teenagers, the drunks, the kids just learning how to pilot a flying car…America’s future ultra-megalopolises would be one Hindenburg-style diaster after another.

    But it does make me wonder if the vehicular future envisioned in the film Minority Report—maglev cars going up and down the sides of buildings, some seemingly on auto-pilot with others being driven later on ‘traditional’ highways—is closer to the truth or just another version of the same general problem.

    • Ack. I had meant to write ‘but since when does not having a license prevent people from driving cars.’ Brain fart.

      I think the maglev cars idea has some feasibility to it, but not for any currently existing city (the amount of infrastructure that would have to be built would paralyze any normal city). You’d only get it in a newly founded city or one that had to be totally rebuilt from the ashes.

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