Florida Attack Ad Uses 'Driverless Cars' To Scare Elderly Voters

August 13, 2012

'Tis the season for many things: late-summer road trips. Back-to-school shopping. And of course, iffy political attack ads.

By now, we'd expected to see a number of commercials criticizing incumbents' support of the Detroit bailout begun by President Bush and continued under President Obama. But in fact, the most interesting -- and alarming -- ad we've seen in the past few days comes from a state Senate race in Florida's 22nd district.

At the moment, all attention is focused on the primary election, which takes place tomorrow, August 14. The lead-up to election day has been pretty interesting, since Florida recently re-drew its district boundaries. As a result, many elected officials have changed districts in a scramble to find friendy turf.

In Tampa's Senate district 22, for example, state Senator David Simmons has jumped ship and is now running for re-election in district 10. That's left two members of Florida's House of Representatives to duke it out for district 22: Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe. (Both are Republicans; no Democratic candidate qualified for the race.)

A PAC calling itself the Committee to Protect Florida have recently launched an attack ad against Brandes, who is currently serving his first term in the House. And at the center of that ad sits something with which we're very familiar: the autonomous car. Have a look:

It doesn't take a talking head to see where that ad's going. Clearly, it's meant to frighten Florida's army of elderly voters into casting their lot with Jim Frishe.

Accurate or misleading?

We won't judge the last half of the ad, which focuses on Brandes' work on toll roads and bridges. And we won't judge the folksy, drawled voiceover, which is obviously a stand-in for that confused woman hobbling around her neighborhood on a walker.  

That said, we know that Brandes did sponsor CS/HB 1207 "Vehicles with Autonomous Technology", which would legalize the "operation of autonomous motor vehicles on public roads". That bill is still pending before the state legislature.

So, score one for truth.

However, we take issue with depicting autonomous vehicles as "driverless remote-controlled cars". Those two things are, in fact, very, very different.

Autonomous vehicles are not "remote-controlled". Calling something "remote-controlled" assumes that there is a human off in the distance who is controlling speed, direction, and other variables. That's not how autonomous vehicles work. In fact, that's the very opposite of "autonomous". 

Autonomous vehicles require no human input. They manage everything themselves: starting, stopping, turning, and navigation. That's why they're called "autonomous". Perhaps someone should buy the Committee to Protect Florida a dictionary. 

Nor are autonomous vehicles "driverless". Although there are potential applications down the road for driverless vehicles in certain environments (e.g. in military situations, and in large factories), all autonomous vehicles proposed for public roads have included room for a driver, who can override the automated system, if necessary. (Though ironically, that's where the danger comes in: of the 300,000 miles logged in Google's autonomous cars, fender-benders have only occurred with humans at the wheel.)

Bottom line: some of the Committee's facts are correct, but its message is misleading. In fact, it's so misinformed, it may cross the line into libel.

More importantly, autonomous cars are already en route -- and not just in Nevada. We're not taking sides in this debate, but from where we sit, it looks like Brandes was trying to get ahead of the game by sponsoring autonomous-vehicle legislation.

Does this ad resonate with you? Or are you as annoyed as we are? Or do all attack ads from PACs put you on the defensive? Drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.

[h/t John Voelcker]

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