Our neighborhood of 29,000 seniors is part of a cheek-by-jowl complex of three such Southwest Arizona communities. So, the total local 55+ interlocking neighborhood is about 92,000 souls. And many of us are well into the plus side.
Since no one without physical infirmities has to take written or performance tests to get a driver’s license hereabouts, the local roadways are a continual dance of off-the-track bumper cars. Good drivers must not only “drive defensively” but develop quick-as-a-rabbit reflexes.
Now, speeding along beside us on our roadways, we have an entirely new - and I believe “not-ready-for-prime time” - hazard out there. Driver-less cars. We’ve got ‘em all over the place. Chandler, Mesa, Surprise, Peoria and Phoenix.
Tech and auto companies from coast-to-coast have selected our retirement haven for a couple of reasons. Most of our arterials are three-lanes or more. And there’s a lot of ‘em.
But I think the prime reason is Arizona - at least our overheated part of it - is flat. You can stand at the city limits and see from Tuesday to Thursday. In all directions. “The Valley of the Sun” is just one big flat hotplate. While communities put up signs so you’ll know which one you’re in at the moment, they all look just about the same. Right, left and straight ahead but no hills to climb or descend.
So, Tesla, Toyota, GM, Ford, BMW and others have put their latest technology on our roads and highways. Yes, we’ve had some wrecks. And, at least one local fataliy in which the car “saw” a woman in a crosswalk and decided to ignore her. She died right there.
These companies load up their test platforms with all the latest gadgets and turn ‘em loose. Most have humans behind-the-wheel. Most. Not all.
I’ve seen a couple of these driver-less wonders in the neighborhood but most operate in smaller towns with less surrounding traffic. So far, at least in our family, so good.
But, we have something new in nearby Chandler. Walmart - yes, Walmart - is offering driver-less cars to customers for grocery shopping. Pick up the phone, set an appointment and you’ll get picked up by a new, air conditioned Chrysler Pacifica - sans driver - and taken to a Walton family outlet.
Walmart appears to have created a list of “exclusive” customers to use the service. Not sure who or on what basis such were selected. I didn’t make the cut.
This pilot program - I prefer to think of it as “pilotless” - also includes special deals on groceries as an incentive to risk your life. Walmart, apparently, pays for everything. Even hospitalization, I guess, if things don’t work as engineered.
Tom Ward is VP of “e-Commerce Operations” for the company. He says “The purpose of all this is for the Walmart folks to learn if people will accept the technology.”
We’ll see. Given the mishaps - read crashes - we hear about locally, I don’t think much of the senior set will be using the service. If any made the “exclusive” list.
The self-driving car is probably an eventuality we’re all going to live with. But, development of this species of transportation is a much larger step than the one that took us out of horse-drawn conveyances. We had to train only ourselves to use cars. This “advance” is trying to teach us we don’t have to “use” cars. They’ll do everything themselves. Maybe.
I’ve developed some notions why living in this part of the world is not entirely a blessing. Now, I can add a new one: daily living on a driver-less test track.