Our love affair with the automobile is nothing new—but with the anticipated coming of the driverless car we are moving into uncharted territory.

There are 22, 650,000 plus California drivers by current count—which means over 2/3rds (38.8 million) of us are behind the wheel at any given time.

While cars can be menacing in the hands of reckless, inattentive, over-exuberant, or plain crazy drivers, there is little evidence we are drifting away from buying more of them every year in favor of other modes of transportation.

In fact, the automobile industry is one of the few that seems to be impervious to competition. Recessions can hurt workers and Detroit, once the epicenter of automobile manufacturing in the nation, took a terrific hit in 2008 from which it has yet to recover.

This has not, however, dampened the appetites of a car-crazed society from seeking out the latest, fastest, most stylish automotive wonder with cariacs from 15 to 85 itching to hit the pedals.

Now comes along—or very soon—a car that will not require any driving skills—literally a partially unmanned object that will imitate a drone once it’s fired up. It will be aimed in a certain direction and thereafter the on-board computers take over.

However, before we all succumb to the driverless car craze, maybe there a few things worth considering.

Cars serve a much higher purpose than simply getting us from one place to another or as the most cherished object of practically every reasonably normal teenager in the land.

They are not merely an ingenious mechanical device whose original inventors changed the world.

They are not in their current driven version a historical curiosity that has outlived its usefulness and destined to become an alternative means of public transit.

General Motors could one-up Greyhound’s famous slogan, “Leave the driving to us” with Relax-you won’t need a driver! How comforting is that?

Better yet, With your car on auto-pilot now you can once again make those cell phone calls probably with impunity or surf the web knowing other drivers will be doing the same things. That should be a confidence builder.

In the new driver-free world, motorist and pedestrian safety will be your computer’s responsibility—not yours. Kind of like internet data containing national security secrets which can end up getting hacked by an unfriendly nation without anyone accountable for their transmission.

Of course if your on-board computer has a glitch while you are distracted and forgets to take corrective action as needed to avoid another unmanned vehicle, sorting out who or what was responsible for the crash could redefine the laws of auto insurance liability and the anecdotal testimony will turn traffic courts into reality shows.

(Honest Your Honor, although I was following all the rules and my car was driving along on its own at the permissible driverless speed limit, this car comes out of nowhere and slams into mine. The other guy says since he wasn’t driving either and was happily gazing at the scenery. it’s not his fault and I should take it up with the car maker).

And what about those of us who may prefer to keep our old driver-guided relics? Will the next space age entries be able to recognize us? Will we need a different set of laws and regulations when the first adapters and the traditionalists meet up violently on some stretch of asphalt?

Pity the oft maligned DMV workers who will have to re-design tests for driverless car owners who may have to second-guess what their computers were expected to know.

Aside from these technical quibbles which are likely to generate a mountain of litigation, the pleasures of car ownership, frivolous as they may seem, derive in part from the actual joy millions get from maintaining full command of their vehicles.

And who amongst us while traversing the treacherous Big Sur or navigating the obstacles on the San Diego Freeway will be bold or dumb enough to turn over the controls to the invisible co-pilot?

While public modes of transportation offer many advantages without the hassles and the environmental bonuses are obvious, there is little evidence hands-free technologies will replace the driver experience very soon if ever.

Cars are more than metal on wheels: For many they are highly prized art forms with years of devoted craftsmanship and loving labor behind each new production. They are as iconic to our culture as baseball, skyscrapers and Thanksgiving Day parades.

Separating the driver from hegemony over the car is like asking a duck to live out of water.

Naturally there will be those so mesmerized by the latest technological wizardry they will be the first to line up at the dealerships assuming the costs are not prohibitive. Initially they will find an eager clientele much as the hybrids and electric cars which preceded them.

While these people-haulers are still gaining popularity they have not taken all romance out of the road. They have merely created more economical, ecologically-sensitive, user-friendly ways of getting somewhere which many discriminating buyers favor. The customer’s driving aspirations are paramount; the complex gadgetry necessary to achieve them only enhances the experience.

For those who are ready to forsake the joys (and tribulations) of driving, there are always busses, bicycles, ferries and trains. We need them all. But if we are going to crowd the roads with motorists I will feel a lot safer with two hands still on the wheel.

This latest innovation reminds me of an H.L. Mencken quip from an earlier century: “Progress is a good thing, but it went on too long.”