HomeCar CultureRoad rage: Can classic cars and self-driving pods blend in traffic?

Road rage: Can classic cars and self-driving pods blend in traffic?


A few months ago, a British organization that promotes safer roadways, issued a news release titled, “Hold your horses! How to pass horses safely on the road.”

“You may see more horses on the road during the summer months, and more than likely they’ll be on a country lane. Here are IAM RoadSmart’s tips on how best to pass a horse safely on the roads…” we were informed by IAM RoadSmart, which dates to 1956 and is England’s largest “independent road safety charity,” and has a network of local groups and businesses that conducts various road-safety campaigns, including driver and rider classes.

Someday might your grandchildren in their semi-autonomous transportation device be warned that, “If you’re approaching a human-driven old car from behind…

I’ll get to its suggestions about passing horses in a moment, but what struck me about that news release was that someday, some organization likely will be issuing a similar news release about how to pass vintage vehicles safely on the road.

The automobile is going through its largest transformation since petroleum-fueled vehicles pulled far ahead of steam- or electric-powered cars about a century ago. New technology and the growing concern about the Earth’s environment are tipping the scales not only in favor of electric vehicles, but toward a future in which vehicles won’t need human drivers to steer or stop them.

As the transition takes place from the current fuel-burning vehicle fleet to an electric-powered one, and from driver’s eyes on the road and hands on the wheel to semi-autonomous and eventually fully autonomous transportation pods, the use of vintage vehicles figures to be reduced, and perhaps even restricted.

Consider that in many communities, you cannot keep a horse except in certain areas zoned for such creatures. In an electrified transportation scenario, might there be legislation preventing the keeping of flammable-fueled vehicles except in certain areas? 

Note that when the motorcar supplanted the horse as the primary means of human transportation, horses didn’t go away (though their numbers reduced, from around 21 million in the U.S. in 1900 to around 10 million today). However, their usage evolved from family necessity to a primarily recreational/hobby status. (Even cattle ranchers have replaced many of their horses with motorized all-terrain vehicles.)

“Horses are powerful animals and have extremely heightened senses,” IAM RoadSmart reminded motorists in its news release. “They are also ‘flight’ animals so if they become scared, they will revert back to their natural instinct.”

A pair of riders and their horses on a British country road | British Horse Society photo

Might they say the same thing about those owning and driving vintage vehicles in the not-so-distant future? 

The British group’s focus was on horses being ridden, but in parts of the United States — areas where people of the Amish faith and lifestyle reside — horses pulling buggies are commonplace on roadways. I used to live in Michigan and there are several Amish communities in the state, and each year there are horrible collisions between motorized and horse-drawn vehicles. 

The British group noted that in 2018, 87 horses and 4 people died in car/horse collisions on British roads. Proponents of autonomous vehicles tout their belief that such vehicles can be programmed to avoid collisions, but because of the lack of modern safety equipment — let alone avoidance technology — in vintage cars, the likelihood of the occupants of those vehicles being injured or killed in a collision seems even more likely.

The aftermath of a car/horse collision | British Horse Society

Someday, might your grandchildren in their semi-autonomous transportation device be warned that, “If you’re approaching a human-driven old car from behind… Slow down and hold back… Avoid any sudden movements and loud noises…  When passing make sure you give plenty of space… Often when you see two old vehicles together it is for safety reasons. Give them some consideration.

“Keep an eye on the driver. They will often give you signals asking to slow down, stop or to overtake. They will acknowledge you and assist you to pass, but their main priority is keeping themselves and their vehicle safe, so they’ll be trying to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times…”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. My biggest concern is that when autonomous vehicles are ready for prime time and the infrastructure is there to support them; our overbearing federal nanny-state government will actually outlaw human-driven vehicles. They will tell us it is out of concern for our safety, but really they simply want to keep tabs on us at all times through our GPS-tracked, autonomous, transportation pods. And keep us fully entertained with our Google Android 22+S or whatever we have by then so that we won’t even notice they’ve stripped us of our right to drive a car!
    Forgive me for sounding like a conspiracy theorist looney-toon but wait and see.

    • Autonomous vehicles offer little to no additional value to the consumer. The cost is estimated to 30 percent to the vehicle cost and the safety benchmark is to achieve equal road fatalities. A good friend of mine says” they call Artificial Intelligence for a reason”. He also reminds that the same people who fail to make your current electronic devices work flawlessly will now control you and your family hurtling down the highway. No thanks. I will just move to a more sane place and steer clear of the madness and not support the industry. Ford, VW, etc. are you reading this? Did AI pick this note up and put it on your watch? No? Hmmmmm…..

    • There are already signs on the entrance ramp to many highways prohibiting bicycles, horses, and pedestrians. It wouldn’t be difficult to add ‘non-autonomous vehicles’ to those signs in the future if said highway has traffic control technology embedded in the pavement or overhead to communicate with ‘modern’ vehicles. We in our ‘old’ cars may be relegated at first to secondary or back roads, and eventually if we want to drive our ‘steeds’ on weekends, we may have to trailer them to autocross-like facilities out in the countryside to drive on tracks that are not public thoroughfares. Hopefully, I’ll no longer be here by the time it becomes that cumbersome to drive and enjoy my old vehicles. Hell, traffic is so bad in the Boston area most of the time that I’m hesitant to drive any of my old cars except around 7 am on Sunday mornings!

    • Remember: Electric power isn’t autonomous driving. They are separate and I believe electric power is back here to stay. Remember it was about 25 percent of the cars in NYC in the early 1900s. Then it’s benefit was for women who couldn’t hand crank a car. Now what’s it for????

  2. Um, I don’t see autonomous drones overtaking me, much less passing. That’s "Jetsons" era stuff, and I’m over 60 now- and still row my own gears in a 2004 GTO. As long as Teslas keep decapitating drivers while "autodriving", and the law is fifty years behind the times, I’m certain that I will have the freedom of the American roads til death.
    Oh, and for MrMcIntire- dude, if you have a computer, smart phone, job, bank account, social security number, or any online presence a’tall, well, the nanny state already has their harpoons deep in ya. Really- and the functionaries of the nanny state care ABSOLUTELY not a whit for your supposed "safety". Power and control, agenda and career advancement is what they care about. We’re just statistics, convenient, but disposable.
    I don’t trust my phone to work at 100%, ever. Long direct personal experience. The idea that I would trust an easily hacked, mass production at the lowest cost hard/software bundle to fling me and mine down the highway- no. Not gonna happen. Frickin’ fly by computer planes crash alarmingly often, and the sky’s pretty damn empty. Roads, not so much. And think about all those malicious little f***s that live in their parent’s basements with nothing to do but fiddle and dink with systems. They got no trouble shutting down the grid, stealing your personal info, shutting down airports- hey! It’s fun to watch people die!
    Nah, I think I’ll pass on the compucar.


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