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Americans will always seek the thrill of the open road

Nissan Motor Co.'S "Leaf", with no one inside,

Nissan Motor Co.'S "Leaf", with no one inside, pulls a trailer with three other Leafs on it, during a demonstration of the automaker's Intelligent Vehicle Towing system at Nissan Oppama plant in Yokohama, near Tokyo Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Nissan Motor Co. is testing out self-driving cars at one of its plants in Japan to tow vehicles on a trailer to the wharf for loading without anyone behind the steering wheel. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) Credit: AP / Koji Sasahara

Self-driving cars will kill the precious thrill of the open road while hurting large segments of our economy.

When killjoys and bureaucrats get their way, we give up the things that make our lives rich and fun. We’re approaching that now with these pod-like vehicles.

Private companies and federal agencies are working to put millions of driverless cars on America’s roads, and there’s a good chance those vehicles will eventually comprise the majority of personal vehicles on our roads: Some are predicting fully automated cars will account for 10 percent of annual global vehicle sales by 2035, with that percentage expected to grow from there.

Google plans to put its autonomous driving technology into minivans, Tesla plans to have a fully driverless car ready by 2018 and many other companies plan to roll out self-driving cars by 2020.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation has kicked off the regulatory process that will be necessary for the technology to further grow.

There’s no doubt that federal bureaucrats want to discourage individual driving and, as usual with government meddling, they’ll tell us it’s for our own good.

So, let’s examine what our society might look like if driverless cars become the dominant means of private transportation.

First, we’d be deprived of the precious freedom of mobility and the magnificent joy of driving on the open road that have made America the most mobile - and most fun - car country on Earth.

H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, once defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” Driverless cars are a 21st century illustration of that adage.

No one with an ounce of adventure coursing through their veins wants to travel in a drab little pod - probably with federal hackers recording your every move and quite possibly your every conversation.

Forget that wonderful little ditty about “the free, fresh wind in your hair, life without care.”

When you look out the pod’s window, all you will see is other pods - no more awesome Ferraris, Mustangs, Corvettes or Porsches.

And there would be no more thrilling, iconic car movies like Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt,” Paul Newman’s “Winning,” James Garner’s “Grand Prix,” and “Thunder Road,” the perfect 1950s drive-in movie with bootlegger Robert Mitchum outrunning dull revenue cop Gene Barry.

Chase scenes would have to be done with bicycles - that is, with drivers wearing government-approved helmets.

Some 65 years ago, “Route 66” captured the imagination of the baby boom generation with two young guys having great adventures while speeding across America’s open roads in a Corvette convertible. We would never have fallen in love with the show if the guys had stayed home in, say, Dubuque.

Of course, massive change - especially when heavily guided by big government - always means huge economic disruptions.

For example, hotels would lose out as people sleep in their cars during overnight trips. Using a car as a moving motel is much more cost-efficient and convenient than booking a hotel room.

On the other hand, the drab reality would also make people for more nostalgic for the golden age of automobile, boosting attendance to such famous car museums as the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind., and the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa.

As Americans view these glittering works of automotive art, they’ll begin to fully realize just how much the country has the lost in switching to the dullness of automated pod cars.

Whitt Flora, an independent journalist, covered the White House for The Columbus Dispatch and was chief congressional correspondent for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.