Alleged drunk driver's dangerous ride on roof of 'driverless' car

Commentary: In China, a man reportedly charged with driving under the influence lets his car roll sans driver while he he stands on the roof. A portent of things to come?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


A temptation for the future?

People's Daily/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This didn't happen, as car ads often have it, on a closed course with an expert driver.

This was, police say, on a real road in Bengbu, China, with an allegedly inebriated driver. 

Footage posted by the Chinese People's Daily shows a man standing on the roof of his car, leaving it "driverless" as it rolls along a busy road on August 26.

The People's Daily says that the man even poked his feet back through the sunroof in order to control the steering wheel and rolled like this for some 600 meters, even going through a crossing.

However, when the police caught up with him, he allegedly jumped back into the driver's seat and tried to get away.

Self-driving cars, also known as driverless or autonomous cars, are banned on public roads in China, though some Chinese companies are testing their self-driving cars in California. So it's unlikely this was technically a self-driving car. Rather, it looks like this driver got his regular car rolling and then climbed on to the roof for his performance. (We're trying to reach the People's Daily for help confirming. )

Why might he have done this? Police reportedly say he told them he was celebrating a big business deal. Well, of course. They charged him with DUI and reckless driving.

Imagine, though, that this was the near future, when fully self-driving cars are all the (road) rage. 

One of the main arguments used for these cars is that they will eliminate bad driving, as we will all be transported to our destinations in orderly fashion, sticking militarily to the speed limits.

Accidents, so the theory goes, will rarely happen. And, should trouble strike, the car will make a quick algorithmic calculation to decide whether to kill its occupants or bystanders for whom the car is heading.

But will we accept the notion of passively sitting in cars, reading, online shopping and playing video games? 

Humanity has a lunatic fringe. Sometimes, it seems to encapsulate a substantial proportion of society. 

This video suggests just one behavior that will be very, very tempting to daredevils, drunks or merely college undergraduates desperate for an original selfie. 

Imagine riding along the Golden Gate Bridge in some future self-driving time. Everyone is standing on the roofs of their self-driving cars, desperately trying to capture a new angle for their Instagram accounts. 

Imagine the road rage, as one roof-stander objects that another might be in the way of their perfect shot.

And what will happen when enthusiastic roof-riding photo-takers are just in mid-shot as the car starts moving a little more rapidly? How many might fall? And when they do, will their car stop? Or will it roll on merrily without them? 

The classic engineering issue of our day is that those who attempt to create perfect systems are creating them for imperfect humans. 

It isn't quite human nature to mutely capitulate to a system's demands. Even though some systems these days do a very fine job of subjugating us to their ways. Just look at how we all walk with our heads pointed down toward our phones.

Will self-driving cars be forced to lock us inside, with no roof access? For our own supposed good, you understand.

Now that wouldn't be enhanced freedom, would it?

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