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Here's why survivalists know you should dread self-driving cars
Published on: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
By: for
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Will self-driving cars help or hinder escape when societal calamity ensues?

The word by itself conjures up quite a number of vivid images and a middling of controversy.

Some refer to survivalists as preppers, a term suggesting that there is intense preparation that goes into being ready to survive (please note that there’s an ongoing dispute over whether the two monikers are the same or mean different things).

Generally, the viewpoint most have of these survivalists or preppers is that they are imbued with a belief that society is going to somehow breakdown and we’ll have chaos in our streets.

Furthermore, under the unshakable faith of that belief, these ardent believers are getting ready for that day to arrive.

For them, it is just a matter of when and not a matter of “if” the reprehensible day shall arrive.

The everyday public tends to shake their head in modest disdain for those that live on the precipice of expecting the world to collapse. Silly, misguided, confused, and outright nutty is the typical refrain about the more vocal and visible survivalists around us.

A counterargument oftentimes employed is that people prepare for all kinds of disasters, including for example here in California we overtly prepare for earthquakes.

For example:

·        You can buy earthquake insurance via the non-profit publicly established California Earthquake Authority to cover your housing and allied property for damages due to earthquakes.

·        You can shore-up your shelves and picture frames by attaching them securely to the wall of your abode.

·        You can figure out beforehand the safest place to be in your home during a shaker, being ready for a bone-rattling earthquake, and set up an escape plan with your family as to how you’ll get out of the house if it starts to turn into rubble.

In short, millions of Californians that are preparing for such a disaster are “survivalists” in the sense that they are anticipating something untoward will happen and they are getting ready for that dire moment.

That being said, it turns out that only about 10% of Californians buy earthquake insurance and the remaining 90% seem to not be overly concerned about getting such insurance.

How many Californians are truly ready for an earthquake, other than perhaps knowing the infamous “drop, cover, and hold-on” mantra that is repeatedly taught in our elementary schools?

Likely not many.

For true survivalists, they would tend to point out that this lack of adequate preparation for an earthquake is exactly why they are getting ready, wanting to be one of those that will survive a calamity while the rest of society gets caught ill-prepared and presumably will perish or certainly falter when the worst-of-times arises.

Getting Ready For The Worst Of Times

One of the key elements involved in being a survivalist is setting up a survival retreat, perhaps an underground bunker someplace or a hidden shack that’s off the beaten path and far from the societal turmoil that’s coming.

They even have a so-called Bug-Out Bag (BOB), also known as a Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) kit, containing the essential items that they want to take with them to their survival retreat.

When the Stuff Hits The Fan (SHTF), note that I’ve cleaned-up that phrase a tad, the survivalist or prepper will have handy their essential items and be zipping along right away as they scurry to reach their prepared survival retreat.

This brings up another make-or-break element of being ready.

How will the person get from wherever they are to the place of their survival hut?

The odds are that where they currently undertake their normal day-to-day existence is quite a distance from the designated survival locale. Thus, walking to their retreat or riding a bicycle to get there is probably not a viable option.

Pretty much, most survivalists are planning to drive to their safety hideaway.

Indeed, a well-prepared prepper has a Bug-Out Vehicle (BOV).

Their BOV is usually a car that’s been made into something more amenable to the grand getaway that’s going to be needed.

What do you need for your escape vehicle?

A few key aspects include having sturdy tires since you’ll most likely need to drive over roadway debris and maybe go off-road during your journey. You’ll want extra gasoline since the prospects of gas stations being open and having available gas is going to be chancy.

The car needs to be in good shape. It won’t do you any good if your escape vehicle is worn out and might breakdown the instant you get on your way.

Using a rooftop rack or carrier is going to be handy since you’ll want to pile your crucial belongings and spare emergency supplies onto the top of the car if you have time to do so and can manage the act without jeopardizing the escape timing.

This brings up an interesting question: Will the advent of true self-driving cars be helpful as a means of having an at-the-ready a Bug-Out Vehicle or will driverless cars be an ill-advised way to escape?

The answer is that self-driving cars are going to be a dreadful choice of chariot when seeking to ride to safety, and thus survivalists are going to need to be prepared for some other means of transport.

If you are unclear why driverless cars are going to be such a confounding sticking point, I’d like to offer some thoughts on why that will be the case.

Let’s unpack the matter.

The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

It is important to clarify what I mean when referring to true self-driving cars.

True self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless cars are considered a Level 4 and Level 5, while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some point out).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional cars, so I’m not going to include them in the discussion about having them used as a survivalist escape vehicle.

For semi-autonomous cars, it is equally important that I mention a disturbing aspect that’s been arising, namely that in spite of those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the car, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Escaping Chaos

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving cars, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

Many have predicted that we’ll have a mobility transformation and essentially become a mobility-as-a-service economy, shaped around ridesharing on steroids.

Some believe that only large companies such as the automakers and maybe the prominent ridesharing firms will own and operate driverless cars. This will be done based on large fleets of self-driving cars that they opt to establish and deploy.

So far, this seems just dandy and doesn’t appear to run afoul of the desire to use a driverless car as your survivalist escape transport.

In theory, you could use your smartphone to request a ridesharing self-driving car, tell the AI to hit the gas and get going, and then sit back in the reclining seats as you are whisked to your hidden retreat.

In fact, if you have somehow become partially incapacitated, perhaps the mayhem on the streets has led to your getting shot or knifed, using a self-driving car is perfect since you aren’t readily able to drive the car anyway and you’ve instead got the AI to do the driving for you.


Excuse me, I don’t mean to pop the balloon on this fanciful hope, but as survivalists are oft to say, you’ve got to face the reality when reality hits you in the face.

Let’s go over the many downsides of trying to use a self-driving car in this particular use case.

First, assuming that driverless cars are owned by large companies and not by individuals (which, I dispute here, but let’s go with the assumption for now), you as a survivalist are going to be dependent upon finding a driverless car and getting it to take you to some distant locale.

If the shucks have really hit the fan, does it seem realistic to expect that driverless cars are simply going to be roaming around and letting people take rides wherever they want to go?


The fleet owner might decide to call their fleet to their home base and maybe allow only their own employees to use them in the emerging emergency situation unraveling (that’s a nice perk!).

Or, the company might decide to stop all the driverless cars from taking on any rides at all. The self-driving cars could be summarily stopped at wherever each happens to be, and without the electronic approval from HQ, those driverless cars are multi-ton dead-weights.

Even if the fleet owner wants the driverless cars to be giving rides, it could be that electronic networks are messed-up and perhaps the self-driving cars have been programmed that unless they are able to connect with the HQ cloud, they aren’t to proceed other than undertaking ride requests within a narrow distance or locale.

For Level 4 self-driving cars, there’s another somewhat unpublicized constraint that you need to consider too.

With Level 4, a driverless car has a pre-defined Operational Design Domain (ODD), which means that the self-driving car is only supposed to function within a set of established conditions. For example, a driverless car might only work when the weather is sunny and only drive in a pre-mapped city, otherwise, it isn’t capable of driving the car.

Level 4 self-driving cars that are made by different automakers will each have their own idiosyncratic set of ODD’s.

Thus, you might get seemingly lucky and manage to flag down an available Level 4 driverless car when you are on the verge of your escape, but upon telling the AI to proceed to your out-of-town retreat, the AI might respond that unfortunately, it is a location beyond it’s ODD and cannot drive you there.

Imagine your chagrin that you managed to actually find a roaming driverless car, which might be scarce during the chaos that’s ensuing, and then find out that the furthest it will take you is the nearby grocery store (at which people are already in a crazed frenzy and clearing the shelves of all food and provisions).

In short, it would seem like you are going to be out-of-luck because you don’t own the driverless car, and you have become entirely dependent upon someone else, a fleet owner, allowing you to use a self-driving car for your escape, yet this presents numerous hurdles and problems when the time comes to make your move.

That’s antithetical to being a survivalist.

No weak links in the chain.

Pretend for a moment that you have available a Level 5 self-driving car. Assume further that it is at your disposal all the time and ready for your town-leaving trek (I’m going with this, though it is near-term quite far-fetched).

Guess what?

The official definition for Level 5 is that off-road driving is considered out-of-scope.

That’s right, there is no requirement that a Level 5 must be able to drive beyond the everyday roads and highways. It might be able to do so, but there’s no stated requirement that it must be able to do so.

Therefore, your Level 5 self-driving car that’s been sitting in your garage and waiting for the day of action, could refuse to go off-road when you get underway and confront such a need, and end up leaving you stranded or unable to reach your distant and woods hidden or middle-of-the-desert underground bunker.


You might be thinking that you could just hack the Level 4 or Level 5 driverless car and get it to do your bidding. Reprogram the darned thing to do what you say, such as go outside the defined ODD of the Level 4 or go off-road as a Level 5.

Presumably, the self-driving car makers have put in place a bunch of impenetrable cyber-security barriers to prevent people from fiddling with the on-board computers (for more about the impending cyber-hacking that will surely aim at self-driving cars, see this piece here).

If you can readily hack the AI for the escape, it would imply that people could be hacking driverless cars all the time. Hopefully, the AI and on-board processors aren’t going to be so readily overturned.

As you can plainly see, driverless cars present many qualms as an escape vehicle.

The good thing about conventional cars is that you don’t need to argue with a computer processor or an AI system and can pretty much commandeer a car when needed.

A survivalist that has set aside their Bug-Out Vehicle might be prepared to hot-wire another car at random, doing so if they aren’t able to get access to their BOV (maybe it’s parked at home, and they are currently at work). In the chaos of the societal uprising, nobody is likely to notice someone stealing a car.

With self-driving cars, there isn’t going to be the equivalent ability to commandeer the vehicle.

Plus, most of the driverless car makers are going to remove the driving controls entirely, such as the steering wheel and the pedals, wanting to make sure that no human can drive the car. The driving controls are hidden underneath the hood and will be controlled exclusively by the AI system.


There’s more bad news to bear.

The odds are that the rooftop of the driverless car is going to contain a raft of delicate sensors such as LIDAR and cameras. These are essential for the AI to drive the car.

There might not be any ready means to pile your stuff onto the roof of the vehicle. Trying to do so could likely harm the sensors and it would render the AI unable to drive the car.

Another facet involves fuel.

Self-driving cars are most likely going to be EV’s, which makes a lot of sense since the electronic sensors and on-board computers are going to be gobbling up lots of electrical power.

Storing extra gasoline for the day of reckoning for a conventional combustion engine car is somewhat easy to do (though not necessarily safe), while trying to somehow store “extra” electrical power is a lot more challenging.

You might also consider that EV’s to-date can’t go long distances without running out of fuel. There also aren’t a lot of EV charging stations, especially if you are heading to a remote location. And, the odds are too that any happenstance charging stations might not be working anyway, not once the electrical grid gets cut off during the societal anarchy.

On and on the list goes of reasons why a self-driving car is not going to be your best buddy in a crisis.

Some pundits that favor driverless cars have been clamoring that we ought to ban all conventional cars and have only driverless cars allowed on our roadways.

The logic is somewhat sound in that if you believe that self-driving cars will reduce the number of annual deaths and injuries due to driving cars, you might be able to save lives by getting rid of conventional human-driven cars.

Today’s society takes a dim view of such a proposition for a number of reasons (the most obvious being that we don’t yet have true self-driving cars that are ready for widespread use and therefore we are still reliant on conventional cars).

Someday, besides everyday self-driving cars being prevalent, we are likely to also have off-roading self-driving cars, which might then be a potential “solution” for those that desire or might need that kind of rough road and back-of-the-woods going capability.

Meanwhile, back to the present and the upcoming future.

There are many people that insist it is their gosh-darned right to drive a car and you are not going to take away that privilege without a fight.

A survivalist might insist that you’ll take away their conventional car when you’ve pried their cold dead hands from their steering wheel.

Now that I’ve explored the reasons why a driverless car is not an apt Bug-Out Vehicle, I think you can understand why there are survivalists hanging onto their conventional car for dear life.

It could indeed spell the difference between their life or death, once the shenanigans have hit the fan. -- Forbes

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