When I was in middle school I read a short story about a self-driving car that becomes self aware and locks a family inside. It drives the same circuit endlessly and stops at the same service station at regular intervals. The car is upset by the carelessness of the family: cigarette burns and spills, etc. It would have been published prior to 1991. The story is told through the pov of a man who sees the car around the same time every year. I would love to teach it with my current middle school class. If you know the title of the story, or the author, please post a response.

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    I don't know the exact name but I read this too. It seems to me the car didn't become self aware it was a failure in programming, too literal with no override. The car was called a Talisman if I remember correctly. Still cannot find the title of the story though.
    – user24816
    Apr 8, 2014 at 15:48
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    The description reminds me of Larry Niven's "Safe at Any Speed", but it doesn't quite match. Apr 8, 2014 at 16:19
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    I am trying to find this story too, I think it is called "The Traveler" and it had an illustration of the car which looked like a skull. I think I remember it was in a collection of other short stories in a skinny silver colored hard back book.
    – user3316
    Sep 18, 2014 at 13:25
  • Skip it and show them Global Racing. You'll be their favorite teacher for the rest of their lives.
    – Mazura
    Apr 28, 2016 at 2:26
  • Megan Lindholm's 2002 novelette "Old Paint" is not the answer to OP's inquiry because of the date and because the car in this story protects rather than traps the human characters. But it might be of interest to future readers. In Ms. Lindholm's story the car is an older model with a customized AI system that exhibits idiosyncratic behaviors that might be characterized as intelligence and emotion, though the author leaves the point ambiguous. A protective mother with many wild stories from her early adulthood figures heavily in the story. Jun 17, 2016 at 3:13

1 Answer 1


"Road Stop" by David Mason. It appeared in Thinking Machines (edited by Asimov et al.) as well as If, January 1963 which is available at the Internet Archive.

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."

  • I remember reading this in Thinking Machines, the only other place it's been published. Mar 19, 2018 at 12:40

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