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The Insanity of Driving (medium.com/duncanr)
49 points by duncanriach on June 10, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

A couple things to point out that the good Doctor seems to have left out of his musings.

Corporations don't REALLY care about people. They aren't going to invest large amounts of money to acquire and develop nearby property to be lived in by transient workers. Doing so would represent a huge assumption of liability on the company's part, the cost thereof most likely would be passed on to the employee. Work is soul sucking enough as is. Living in a company town with all the strings attached that would entail would likely make matters even more depressing.

Self-driving vehicles are nowhere NEAR "basic-AI". It takes a well-developed teenager of a ripe 16+ years to even get to the point we as a society are even comfortable TRAINING them to drive, and God help the one's with a Y chromosome come time to pay the insurance.

And finally, think of the freedom gained by one who learns to operate a vehicle. You unlock a form of mobility unmatched by any mode of locomotion naturally evolved. You have opened to you the collective infrastructure built by man to enable you to travel and transact. If there is any question that should be asked with regards to automotive travel and work, it should be, why don't we travel more for our own edification, rather than for someone else's?

For the current generation at least, the answer seems to be wage stagnation/stratification. A phenomena uniquely addressable from the very same corporations whose altruism is being appealed to in this article.

Awesome response. Thank you. I agree with everything you wrote.

God help the one's with a Y chromosome come time to pay the insurance

In the UK gender discrimination of this kind is illegal. Are you in the US? I am surprised your very vocal activists have not tackled this.

think of the freedom gained by one who learns to operate a vehicle. You unlock a form of mobility unmatched

A car is a powerfully democratising technology. Any regular person can have at his or her disposal a machine that can take them and their friends/family and stuff anywhere they want to go at any time and act as a base while they are there. It’s people who socialise entirely online, get their entertainment via streaming etc who have the unhealthy lifestyle, not the ones who drive to the coast at weekends...

It’s not really discrimination if it’s based on evidence, which is the only thing insurance companies care about. Younger men are far more likely to act like they are in a Gran Tourismo race than people of other ages and genders. This is borne out by evidence from car crashes, etc, not just something someone decided because they don’t like men.

funny enough with the advent of texting and driving its starting to shift to women being more expensive to insure. My sisters insurance for the same vehicle was surprisingly more expensive.

Men used to have higher insurance in EU due to causing more damage on average, but the court found it to be discrimination. Both genders have to pay the same in EU.

sounds nice but I wonder how it works in practice. Did they just raise premiums for women to match the higher men’s premiums?

Did they just raise premiums for women to match the higher men’s premiums?

Well, that’s equality, it goes both ways and either you believe in it or you don’t. I am fairly sure they just averaged out the price.

Women also had their retirement age raised to match men’s only recently too.


Dunno, it was few years ago, so prices moved anyway overtime due to other market influences. Effectively, it does not matter whether it moved up for women initially or down for men, as wish to earn combined with competition among insurance companies should move prices over time somewhere to middle.

and ... one can waste time and money for a few hours every day in it driving to and from work, so that one can then complain about having a shitty life.

Again, though. That only happens when wages gained from one's job are insufficient to allow time to be spent doing anything else but going to and from work.

It is indeed a common phenomena, but the problem is a great deal more complex than the automobile and the road. When you have corporations acting as turbopumps, doing their damnedest to absorb consumer spending power in the name of never-ending growth... It is not surprising that urban road use quite literally sucks the quality out of one's life.

I find it interesting that there seems to be so much fascination with modes of transport controlled by someone else in this day and age. I'd think cloud computing and most of the shenanigans tech companies get away with would have caused people pause when it comes to pawning off their control over their means of travel.

Or do the same journey by other means? In a car you have a seat, your choice of temperature and ambient sound, your stuff secured, etc. Infinitely more pleasant that being crammed in like a sardine on the train.

I commute daily to work. By car it would take about an hour. Taking the train takes 1:15 (of which 40 minutes is train). However, I can use this time productively (in my case studying). Because of this I'm most of the way in getting the AWS certifications.

Taking the car just makes me really grumpy at other cars and people, such that I've often found I'm arriving home in a bad mood.

Each to their own, but I wouldn't rule out public transport (even with terrible rail operators).

Yes it's comfortable, but super space inefficient - 18 feet of road space times a lane for one human.

By all means cars are great, until our devotion to them makes us build 12 lane freeways rather than civilized mass transit. Nothing screams civilized country like high speed and efficient trains.

Or work from home, or start your own business, or travel at different times, or move closer to work and save money, or rent a room near work, or change jobs, or ...

Yes rush hour driving (and many other modern behaviors) is a form of collective insanity, however this behavior is individually completely rational. So each individual is doing a great job maximizing their own utility, yet the result tends to be totally unoptimal.

Western countries appear more and more dysfunctional as an emerging result of their citizens inability to collectively take action. The illness is not in the mind, its between the minds. It is a social illness.

> Western countries appear more and more dysfunctional as an emerging result of their citizens inability to collectively take action

Well said. I feel like people have slowly been taught to fear standing up for themselves.

I think people stand up for themselves just fine, they just have a hard time standing up for others.

The thing is it isn't that we need to stand up for others, but by standing together that we can alleviate society's ills, including our own on a personal scale.

I think that people in general, at all times, tend to follow the crowd. They tend to buy what everyone else is buying and sell what everyone else is selling. They tend to do what everyone else is doing, even though, usually, it doesn't serve them.

I think that there is a lot of collective insanity going on that also affects the actions of individuals. The actions of individuals are driven by emotions and by beliefs that are held in place by emotions. Decisions are pre- and post-rationalized. Most behavior, whether individual or collective is non-optimal and usually does not maximize utility in any sense.

I fail to see how this is a western-specific problem.

Indeed, rush hour in Mumbai isn't fun. Also in London the majority probably use public transport for what that's worth.

The author paints a few overwrought scenes and meanders around a point, but never quite makes one that truly stands out, and doesn't deliver meaningful insight.

Countless people have wondered, amateurs and professionals alike, why so many people commute even when jobs and housing are available in proximity, and not just concentrated in the employment centers like SV, but it always boils down to the same basic setup: supply and demand feeding into pricing, disposable incomes feeding into pricing, zoning and regulations feeding into issues with the demand-matching supply, and a bunch of individuals trying to optimize their circumstances given several constraints.

> Countless people have wondered, amateurs and professionals alike, why so many people commute even when jobs and housing are available in proximity,

Can be explained by this.

> Moreover, the use of motorized transport is no longer optional. Since the introduction of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed in such a way that the majority of people no longer live within walking distance of their place of employment, shopping areas and recreational opportunities, so that they HAVE TO depend on the automobile for transportation. Or else they must use public transportation, in which case they have even less control over their own movement than when driving a car.

Source: [1995] Prof. Teddy in https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/unab...

The important insight it's possible this wasn't by accident or natural, there is a belief that it was intentional[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_consp...

Wow! I did not know about this. What a bunch of criminals! That picture of the street cars stacked up, waiting for domolition in 1952, is really sad.

Getting rides with Lyft or Uber give me even more control over my own movement than driving a car. I get a built-in chauffeur and valet (no time or money spent parking), plus I don't need to pay for maintenance costs or spend time refuelling. Why would waste time and money driving?

Well, you're paying for someone else's maintenance and fuel costs, their time, and the company's profit. Plus, spending your time waiting for the ride to show up every time you need it.

Maybe that makes sense for your situation. It doesn't for mine, even beyond the social awkwardness I feel in using services like that.

I am with you 100% - however what keeps me driving is my distrust of other people's driving skills. I know my city's roads very well and I trust myself to pay more attention than a random uber driver.

It may be an irrational fear but that's what keeps me from full time ubering.

Most of society must still drive.

I can also skip all traffic jams on my motorcycle. When I see a traffic jam, I get excited.

The biggest factor is limiting beliefs. People try to optimize their circumstances within the constraints of limiting beliefs that they're not even aware that they hold. Everyone is selecting the best choice on the menu, and most people present themselves with a shitty menu.

No. There just plain aren't many jobs in the East Bay unless you like working at Chick-fil-A or some call center. The menu is there.

Sounds like an opportunity to me. The East Bay sounds like a great place to start a paradigm-shifting company that attracts all the local talent.

If people spend a great deal of resources on something that's obviously stupid, you probably don't understand their reward function as well as you think you do.

That's a great point. I think that most people and organizations are identified with victimhood and poor performance.

In the cities, there are buildings with shops and restaurants on the ground level and apartments above. Sometimes even in towns you see buildings like that, where the people who run the business live above it. It's possible, even if a physical presence is needed, to have housing and commerce/industry within walking distance.

My first jobs were all within walking distance of where I lived. After that I got jobs on the bus route. But that didn't always work out great - miss a bus by a couple of minutes, or if they miss each other at the transfer station, and you're an hour or two late from waiting for the next bus.

Eventually I ended up in a place and career where commuting was pretty much necessary - jobs were spread over a wide area across multiple towns/cities. And intercity transit is far far worse than local buses. Carpooling to the rescue. The commute sucked, but we had each other's conversation and the audiobooks.

Now I work from home, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I've gained 2 hours a day. The company gets the best of me, instead of me tired and frazzled from transit. It's cheaper and safer. It's a win-win.

Being on a remote-oriented team, it's been said multiple times by people in the office that we talk more than they do to each other. And that matches my experience from having worked in an office.

Driving is insane, especially for commuting, and doubly-so if the job can be done remotely. Cars are extremely expensive not just to buy but to maintain and operate, and yet they spend almost all of their time just sitting in a parking space doing nothing but wasting space. It's a total waste. We can do better.

Someday we'll be explaining to our descendants how we used to spend half our income for a giant box that you had to drag around everywhere you went and constantly pour money into, and then you would just sit in it for hours wishing that you weren't, because that was the fad back then.

On the surface car culture exists because public transport isn't affordable or entirely absent. A few train routes can relieve thousands of cars off the road. A bus carries the equivalent of dozens of cars. In almost all situations public transport is safer and more environmentally friendly.

The situation in US is that public transport doesn't reach suburbs/exurbs, because the routes are generally low in passengers due lower population density - thus not profitable. There are of course more reasons why people choose living without public transport.

The psychology of suburbs/exurbs is against public or shared utility like public transport, because it forces social cohesion and interaction will all of society layers(while private transport is segregated by location and limited to those who have vehicles). Its ingrained in US culture that personal homes, cars and guns are symbols of independent life - a certain brand of lifestyle that diametrically opposite to city life.

People should understand this lifestyle has costs and inefficiencies that exist solely due spreading the population too thin to support services such as public transport. Any business or organization will naturally form to service large concentrations of users, focusing on cities-first, because this simplifies logistics and transport.

People complain often that their area is only serviced by one company(e.g. internet) or even none. They don't really understand why there isn't competition or diversity of service providers for their needs. Their lifestyle teaches them its normal and everything else must accommodate it.

I think that for these big corporations the value of individual "knowledge workers" isn't that great, so they can afford to keep them in rush hour traffic and not have them operating at their peak (see also open office plans). I mean they don't need so many highly skilled and innovative individuals. That's why I don't get the relatively high salaries at eg. facebook. They need maybe a handfull (10-100) of extraordinary people, the rest can be mediocre at best and get the job done. I mean it's a website and selling ads for christs sake :)

I don't agree. You pay someone a few hundred K and you can get x or 10x or 100x out of them if you know how people work. It's much better to get 10x or 100x out of all of your employees if you want to maximize profit.

This was a rambling, uninteresting read without any new insight or humor.

Summary: Author doesn't like commuting, wonders why companies expect people to do it, then hopes for a self driving car future as though this somehow solves the problem.

Agree. Upvotes are probably being gamed.

I'm also amazed that this article is doing so well. I didn't think it was anywhere near one of my best. If upvotes are being gamed, and I'm not gaming them (which I'm not), then I wonder who is doing it, and for what reason.

I'm also wondering if people are seeing, or appreciating, something about this article that I'm not.

HN comments are often not relevant to the specific article posted, people just want to discuss the topic in the headline.

Thanks for your feedback. I'll try harder next time. ;-b

"Recently, I was driving back to the South Bay from San Francisco when I got caught in some stop-and-go traffic, which is a common experience in the Bay Area..."

Understatement of the century.

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