When the Civil Engineer wears the Hero’s Cape (book review)

“It’s one thing to erroneously tell someone to drive through a lake.  It’s quite another to drive someone through a lake.”  So explains fictional Civil Engineer Jake Bendel when discussing the need for complete accuracy in a fully automated highway system in the “civil engineer thriller” Civil Terror:  Gridlock by J. Luke Bennecke.  Civil Terror

In Gridlock, Bennecke, a civil engineer in real life, describes a near-future in which traffic accidents and heavy commutes are a thing of the past, thanks to a “100% accurate” roadway system of self-driving cars which utilize GPS, cell-phone pings, and a loosely-described “proprietary system” of tracking signals.

Things are going along well until a terrorist devises a scheme to kill thousands of commuters by subverting the computer code and causing massive traffic accidents all up and down the California highway system.  Thanks to planted evidence by the terrorist, the FBI suspects Jake and not the true villain.  What follows is a fun crime-thriller-esque novel in which Jake proves to be the unlikely hero.

In the novel, Bennecke explores the realities of a fully-automated traffic system (versus the current one-car-at-a-time system), and the tremendous benefits that could result.  It is also a fun read, especially for civil engineers and those that love them.  As fictional Jake in the novel points out, “[N]obody wants to read a technical thesis about the gritty details of fully automating cars and trucks on freeways…. Unless they were having a hard time going to sleep, ‘cause that would certainly do the trick.”  Instead, Jake in the novel, and Bennecke in real life, pens a novel where the civil engineer gets to wear the hero’s cape, vanquish the bad guy, and save the day.

This book is not an in-depth discussion of the engineering, legal, and insurance implications of self-driving cars.  Instead, it is a fun, quick read where the engineering concept is simply one of many plot points.  Even so, this might be novel as a gift for the favorite civil engineer in your own life!  (after all, Mother’s/Father’s Day is coming!!]

Have you thought about fully-automated highway systems?  See the promise/problems?  Share in the comment section.

[Editor’s note:  I received a review copy of this book for consideration, but will not receive any benefit if you purchase it].

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