‘Self-driving preserves’ is chapter 32 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. THIS IS NOT NEWS; IT IS A PROJECTION OF FUTURE NEWS. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
September 3, 2041
Entry is $250. The weather is hot and dry from the nearby desert. It takes three hours to trailer a pre-2030 car there from Los Angeles. And, before you are allowed to enter the preserve, you have to sign a waiver absolving the company of any and all responsibility for life and limb, for any reason whatsoever, while in the self-driving preserve.
But in spite of all the challenges, the costs, and the risk, the California City Self-driving Preserve is an absolute magnet for thousands of enthusiasts, experts, and amateurs of an ancient art. And a dying one.
I’n talking about the art of driving yourself, that is.
Often in a car without computers, sensors, or cellular connectivity.
Typically when we’ve thought of self-driving, we think of smart cars that can navigate and drive on their own. And, since the Transportation Accords of the 2030s, virtually every car and truck on the road today has that capability, with emergency vehicles and police cruisers getting modified high-risk-tolerant versions just in 2039. In reality, it’s not just a capability, it’s a requirement. While the Transportation Accords didn’t actually criminalize driving yourself, they allowed car insurance companies to set premiums up to 10X higher for people driving themselves versus allowing cars to do the work. And since cars are now easily a hundred times safer drivers than people … that’s exactly what happened.
The result is obvious to all.
Self-driving is now driving yourself, as opposed to letting the machine do it. And it is astonishingly rare, with most new cars being sold today having the most rudimentary capability of a human operating them, if any at all.
Hence California City Self-driving Preserve. And hundreds more like it around North America and Europe, where people can bring their old-fashioned cars — even gas-burning internal combustion cars — and drive them the way Henry Ford intended.
Accidents are common as most drivers’ skills have deteriorated, and ambulance service is expensive. Also, scientists decry the proximity to sensitive desert habitat, including the Desert Turtoise Research Natural Area, a preserve just north of California City.
But still they come.
“It’s like my childhood come back,” says Marshawn Jones. “I always loved driving as a kid in the 2010s and 2020s. It meant freedom. It meant adulthood. It meant fun.”
As a city with the third-largest land area of any in the state but just 17,000 residents, California City is the perfect place for a self-driving preserve. The preserve covers almost 25 square miles of former city and off-road terrain, and there are numerous well-fortified bars, restaurants, and hotels insight the fence. All of them have significant blockades, fencing, and walls to resist wayward cars or trucks, as accidents are common, including ramming structures on purpose.
No weapons are allowed in the preserve, of course, though that is not the case in some others in Texas.
“A three-ton hunk of metal that can go over 100 miles per hour is enough of a weapon for anyone,” says owner and manager Jennifer Silver. “We’d like to keep people as safe as possible.”
Still, in the average month there are easily a hundred ambulance visits to the average self-driving preserve, prompting some calls for them to be banned.
State Senator Jackson Freeze isn’t so sure.
“One thing you can say about self-driving preserves. They provide a very good argument for keeping our transportation and movement laws requiring AI driving systems intact.”
Again, this is a chapter of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.