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I was commenting in a discussion about driverless cars, and recalled a short story I'd read years before about how (in that piece of fiction) early driverless cars had occasionally developed an 'issue' of never letting their passengers out. Driving endlessly, even stopping to fill the gas tank, hypothetically with the deceased occupants still inside, having been trapped in a car that wouldn't let them out.

Someone asked what the story was called, and I can't for the life of me remember, but now it's bugging me. It's probably been more than a decade (maybe even two) since I stumbled across it, and I have no recollection of where I found it, except probably online somewhere, since I don't recall it being in a physical book.

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    I think I remember this one too, it used a special word to describe the act of killing the driver like "zeroed" or something. Feb 11 at 15:32
  • The answers show that there appear to be multiple stories with that plotline. I recall a 1980s or so TV show, where one episode had a similar plotline. I believe it was the Austrian spoof detective show "Kottan ermittelt" but I can't swear to it, so I'm only making this a comment. I do recall that in that case, the car was a VW Golf, and the driver had just bought it with an optional high-security package. It didn't continue driving, but eventually drove itself to a junk yard with the (understandably panicked) occupant still inside. Feb 12 at 3:31

4 Answers 4

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As per Short Sci-fi story about a car that endlessly drives itself, this may be "Road Stop" (1963) by David Mason.

It was like any other car on the road. It was automatic, self-contained - and eternal.

You can read the story via that link, but it's from the perspective of a gas station attendant telling the story of "The Traveler" to a couple that stops by, including a vivid description of windows covered with dust, obscuring the bony remains of passengers who've ceased to try to escape.

The car called the Traveler, rolling at the stately thirty miles an hour it always held, was coming down the road now, and the two men stood, watching. The woman, a little behind them, watched too, her face growing whiter. No one said anything as the old fashioned car rolled by, straight and steady down the highway, holding the center of the lane as sharply as it always did.

There was a film of dust inside the windows, though the Traveler was clean and shining outside. But the film did hide the white bone faces, the despairing hands that had long ago stopped trying to break through those closed windows.

"They never did get out," the man named Jack said, as the Traveler rolled on, growing smaller along the endless road.

"I don't mind it when it goes past," Sam said, this voice thinner edged. "I really don't. It's just a car. Things like that used to happen. I mean, it's a car. Even when it stops to get gas, I don't have to pay any attention."

He looked at the couple, his mouth loose. "As long as it just goes on. That's all right. But I keep thinking some day it'll stop. And the door will open. And maybe . . . maybe they'll want lunch."

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    This one hits all the beats I remember. I'll give it a couple days just in case someone has other ideas, but I think this is it. Feb 11 at 15:47
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Roger Zelazny "Devil Car"

The act of killing the driver is called "monoing" them.

"...Some of them carry dead people strapped inside," said Murdoch, "so they'll look like decent cars with passengers."

The protagonist in his own AI car is hunting down the leader of the rogue AI cars. His own AI car is tempted to join the wild ones...

There is a sequel, "Last of the Wild Ones" but with much less "monoing", although it's mentioned.

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    I don't think it was this one. It was a flaw with the car, not a deliberate act by the car. Feb 11 at 16:02
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    @TheoBrinkman no problem, it was an interesting question. Until today I had not realized the two stories were sequels; I thought it was the same story included in two different collections. Feb 11 at 16:05
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    In Roger Zelazny's stories of robot cars, "monoing" the passengers meant routing the exhaust into the passenger compartment so that carbon monoxide would poison the passengers. So it did mean to kill the passengers but it was a specific way to kill them. I've always liked to think that the car has limited ability to self-repair and it used it to change where the exhaust went. Note that it definitely implied robot cars that used fossil fuels to operate.
    – steveha
    Feb 12 at 9:55
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Possibly SCP-1401 , the never stopping cars.

Relevant quote is from the interview part of the article:

Adam: Well, we left [REDACTED] at half past nine, on our way out to California. We were driving at night to beat the heat and the dust, you see. Sun didn't ever come up, so couldn't have been more than six or seven hours, I guess. No clock in there, and the radio's busted. Sure felt like years, though.

Dr. Samesh: How far did you drive during that period?

Adam: Lost track. The odometer must have rolled over three or four times.

Dr. Samesh: Did you ever reach California?

Adam: Sure. Kept drivin'. Didn't like the look of the place.

Dr. Samesh: You must have needed to refill your gas tank at some point, yes?

Adam: Never needed to. Good thing, too - it was 10 cents a gallon back home, but some of the stations out here, you wouldn't believe how much they're charging.

Dr. Samesh: Did you ever stop to eat, or use the facilities?

Adam: Wasn't really that hungry. None of the restaurants I've seen around here look very good, anyway.

Dr. Samesh: Did you stop at any time for any reason?

Adam: Why bother? We were making great time. Nowhere any good to pull over, anyway.

Dr. Samesh: Did you notice yourself or your family aging during the trip?

Adam: Yeah, I guess I've got a few more wrinkles now than I used to. And the boys… well, they say kids grow up in the blink of an eye, but I wasn't expecting it to happen that fast!

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    Not this one. There was no conversation with people who had been inside the cars, and it wasn't a singular instance to the best of my recollection. Feb 11 at 15:42
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Could it be Sally by Isaac Asimov?

It is set in a future where driverless cars contain a positronic brain (technology from Asimov's Robot stories). Jake runs a 'retirement home' for cars, and forms an emotional attachment with one. The bad guy steals a bus, intending to recycle the positronic brain, but the bus locks its doors and the bad guy is eventually found dead.

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