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“Gliecosal, you are a good researcher, and in general I like your reports.  But, this latest one is frankly unbelievable.  The way you describe the transportation system on . . .” (Krikerbort pauses while he expertly swipes three of his tentacles through the air, rapidly changing the 3D images to find what he’s looking for) “. . . Earth, just doesn’t make sense.  I mean, it sounds horribly inefficient on multiple levels.  No wonder they are having environmental problems.  And it’s amazing they can get anything done when they are spending so much of their time actively controlling these oversized vehicles, trying to keep them from colliding or falling off the paths!  Now, did you really witness all this, or is this a joke?”

“No joke sir, this is all true, as fantastic as it sounds.  They have a little bit of what they call mass-transit, but even that is not computerized.  Most of their travel is one creature at a time, in vehicles designed to hold five or six.  That one creature, they call a driver, has to pay attention full-time to controlling the vehicle.”

“Do they not even have computers yet?”

“No, they have some primitive computers – only about 10 million instructions per second each – that they incorporate into their vehicles, they call cars, that help control the engine, update displays of data needed by the driver, etc.  Some of the newest cars have computers to help avoid collisions, and help keep the cars on what they call roads, but it’s still up to the driver to control everything.”

“But if they have computers, then why don’t they let them control these cars?”

“Well, as far as I could determine, they invented cars before inventing computers.  They didn’t have electronic computers until about 50 of their years after having cars.  So, the first cars had to be controlled by drivers, and it appears the habit just stuck.  There are a few organizations trying to change that now, but for some reason there is a lot of resistance to the idea.  Somehow people associate driving with some sort of freedom, or power.  It is even tied into their mating rituals to some extent.  I guess they value the freedom to crash more than the freedom to stay productive while the car drives itself.  I agree, it makes no sense.”

“That must be complete chaos.  How do they keep from just banging into each other all the time?”

“They’ve developed several things to help in that way.  First of all, they have speed limits.  They can build vehicles that go more normal speeds, like four of five Glockdas, what they would call 500 to 625 Miles Per Hour (MPH), but they limit themselves to at most about half a Glockda.  And most places, the limit is much lower.  The majority of roads are limited to only about 0.2 Glockda.”

Krikerbort, shaking his enormous head, “Horribly inefficient.”

“Yes, and they have lots of signs along the roads, telling them what to do.”

“So, in addition to controlling the car, they have to be reading, too?  That’s nuts.  No wonder they have to go so slow.  And how can anyone be sure that the creatures have read the signs?”

“Well, they can’t really, I suppose.  It’s not like a computer, which can send back an acknowledgement.  But, they do have auditors, what they call police, that watch for drivers doing the wrong things.  But, of course the police are having to control their own vehicles, so it makes it difficult for them to be able to watch everything.”

“So, they don’t even use computers to audit the drivers?”

“Nope.  Again, it’s some social thing.  I don’t think it’s religion exactly, but it is tied into their distorted concept of freedom.  They have strict policies that police can’t use computers to enforce drivers.  At one point, they set up some automated systems to watch for cars disobeying laws, but the people rebelled, claiming that because there was no proof who was driving the car, the vehicle breaking the rule did not prove a specific person did.  There are a few exceptions, like some primitive databases, and computerized sensors tied to radars, etc. but for the most part there has to be a human element involved in enforcement.  Again, police were around long before there were computers, and so it’s another habit, I guess.  So, they seem to place higher priority on freedom from computerized audits, than on freedom from human error and bias.”

“What about when these roads cross?  Without a computer to regulate the vehicles, how can they possibly avoid crashing, even if they are going slowly?”

“Well, again, they have several ways of dealing with this.  Sometimes, they just pass one road over the other, but of course that is expensive, and it makes it much more difficult to adjust the size of the roads when they need to.”

“Oh, so the roads are not computerized either?  And they don’t adjust themselves as needed?”

“Nope, and I’m working on another report about their lack of nanotechnology.  But, getting back to how they cross, on slower roads, they use Stop signs, and everyone is just supposed to take turns stopping, negotiating who goes next, then proceeding.  They have rules for who goes next, but sometimes they have to communicate with hand signals, etc.”

“And if there is no one crossing, do they still stop at these signs?”

“Mostly, yes.  It’s one of the rules.  They are supposed to stop every time, regardless.  I guess without computers to know for sure if others are coming or not, it’s the safest thing to do.  Of course, it wastes a lot of fuel starting up again, not to mention the time spent doing so.  And, as you point out, that time is completely wasted, because the driver can’t be doing anything else while they are stopping and starting.  That gets even worse at traffic lights.”

“Traffic lights?”

“Yes, sometimes, especially in cities, they use what they call traffic lights to control crossings.  They have these structures that hold lights that face down each road.  The color of the light tells them what to do.  At least those are controlled by computers, but horribly stupid ones that have little or no sensors.  So, the lights just change based on pre-set timing, and not based on conditions.”

“More inefficiencies!  And everyone knows these colors and obeys them?”

“For the most part, yes.  There are exceptions, of course, because these are creatures controlling the cars, not computers, and because these creatures seem to equate driving with freedom, sometime to the point of ignoring some of the rules.  There is one city, they call Boston, where the color of the lights is almost completely ignored.  But, for the most part, the creatures cooperate, I suppose to avoid collisions, but also because of the fear of police.”

“How long does it take for someone to learn all these rules and skills to control a car?”

“A few months, but they have to be at least 16 Earth years old to do so in most cases.”

“So, anyone younger than 16 cannot get around without someone else helping them?!”

“Well, other than walking, or riding some simple unpowered and even slower vehicles, that’s right.  In fact, in many cases, the younger creatures get impatient and they sneak off with cars before they are 16, and before they are trained.  That’s a lot of the reason there are so many deaths in that age group.”

“Absolutely ridiculous.  So, is that why they drive these oversized vehicles all the time?  In case a younger person needs help moving?”

“Partly, yes.  They need the capacity in case they need to provide transportation to younger people.  But, it’s also to have room for their mating rituals, as I mentioned.  In the evening, there are often two people in each car, and sometimes they mate in the car, often in the otherwise unused back seat.  Of course, they can’t do that while the vehicle is moving, although occasionally they try.  But, another reason for the large vehicles is because of collisions.  All the extra mass and space helps to protect the creatures inside in the case of a collision.”

“Collisions, yes, I seem to remember some incredible statistics about collisions in your report.  Even with all these signs, lights, and rules, there will be collisions.  I mean no system can be perfect when you have individual creatures that can make independent decisions, and can make errors.”

“Yes, as I reported, each year there are millions of crashes, resulting in 20-50 million injuries, and over 1,250,000 deaths.  In fact, it is the leading cause of death in people aged 15-29, and the second leading cause of death in 5-14 year olds.  And crashes cost 1-2 % of GDP.”

“What an incredible waste of life and resources.  I see why they have to have so many rules for people to learn.  What do the police do if someone disobeys these rules?”

“Usually it is just a financial penalty.”

“I guess you can’t go too hard on the driver, when they are expected to do so much.  Controlling the vehicle, reading signs, watching light colors, looking for other vehicles, using hand signals, etc.  This is all incredible.  And it’s all just because they invented cars before having computers, and now they are stuck there.”

“Well, I expect they will eventually have computer-controlled vehicles.  And with that of course they can have computer coordination throughout their transportation system, enabling them to do away with all the signs, lights, etc. and finally get up to proper speeds.  They have a few experimental driverless vehicles now, but like I said there is a huge amount of resistance to the idea for some reason.  Some places are even passing laws to prevent automated driving, even though it clearly would be much safer and more efficient.”

“And until they automate their vehicles they have to have a driver even for simple freight delivery.  Even more inefficiencies.  Unfortunately, I have to agree with your overall conclusion that this race is just too primitive, and even crazy, to invite into the Galactic Cooperative.  I guess they will just have to go on struggling to solve their problems on their own for a few more decades.  I hope they survive that long without our help.

“Well, thanks for the report, Gliecosal.  You did an excellent job, as always.”


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