Alex Roy (Actually Not) Killed In Hit-And-Run

My obit was an April Fool's Day hoax. Not a joke: more than 100 Americans (and 16 pedestrians) were killed yesterday in car crashes.

Alex Roy, whose storied career as an underground endurance driver includes breaking the Cannonball Run cross-country driving records in both internal combustion and electric vehicles, died this morning in New York City. He was 46.

Roy was struck by a hit-and-run driver in lower Manhattan, a friend said in a statement.

Roy first gained notoriety on 2006 for breaking the US transcontinental driving record — known as the Cannonball Runin a BMW M5. In 2015 he turned his attention to electric and semi-autonomous technologies, and in January 2018 set a new record in a Tesla Model 3.

Despite his notoriety, Roy had little professional driving experience outside of racing school, the 24 Hours of Lemons and a single Baja 1000. His driving career began with an illegal Manhattan lap record in 2001, followed by the Gumball 3000 and Bullrun rallies, in which he participated dressed as a German police officer. Roy retired from such events after two fatalities in Macedonia on the 2007 Gumball, citing insufficient safety standards.

These events were documented in his autobiography The Driver, published in 2007 after the expiration of the criminal statutes related to his 2006 Cannonball Run driving record. The book's publication inverted Roy's relationship with law enforcement, and in 2008 he was invited to speak at the FBI Academy in Quantico.

Time, Inc.

Franz Aliquo, Roy & Warren Ahner on the 2016 Tesla Cannonball Run Record Drive

In 2011 Roy joined the /Drive Youtube channel including J.F. Musial, Mike Spinelli, Chris Harris and Matt Farah, and became Editor-at-Large after its acquisition in 2015 by Time, Inc.'s The Drive. Roy also co-hosted /DRIVE on NBC Sports.

Alex Roy

Roy's BMW at Quantico FBI Academy

Roy claimed a number of other driving records, few of which were revealed other than a 3-Wheeled Morgan Cannonball record in 2015, and record drives across Sweden, Spain and United States as part of the Volvo S90 launch campaign.

In 2016 Roy co-founded The Autonocast podcast and became a controversial voice in automotive circles, with mixed positions on the self-driving sector's safety and rollout claims, and published multiple analyses both celebrating and criticizing Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Cadillac's semi-autonomous systems.

Alex Roy/CMR

Roy joined the Cannonball Memorial Run charity drive at the Department of Justice, 2017

In 2018 Roy launched the Human Driving Association, whose stated goal was to improve safety through rigorous driver training and the accelerated propagation of semi-autonomous driving systems inspired by commercial aviation. Critics cited the organization and its Human Driving Manifesto as a potential impediment to the rollout of self-driving cars, but Roy claimed the organization's platform would improve overall safety on a shorter timetable.

"We are not Luddites," Roy said of the Human Driving Association. "We love technology, but we believe in safety today and tomorrow, not in ten years."

Roy was an angel investor in several automotive safety technology companies he did not disclose.

Roy had planned to release the director's cut of "32 Hours, 7 Minutes" — the documentary about the 2006 Cannonball record — later this year. Its fate remains unknown.

Alex Roy

Roy explains the planning of the Cannonball Run record drive, 2008.

Prior to his driving career, Roy was Chairman of The Moth storytelling series, serving from 2002 to 2007. Roy also served as advisor to the Groupmuse classical music series, and in 2017 launched Noho Sound, a high-end audio showroom in New York City.

Roy had no children.


Now that I've got your attention; of course I'm not dead.

Is this April Fool's hoax in bad taste? Yes. But you wouldn't have read this if it didn't have my name on it, and I'm a C- media personality, at best.

Here's what's really in bad taste: while I was writing this, at least 40 more people died. If you think this op-ed sucks, you haven't been to an open casket funeral.

Let's talk about facts.

More than 100 Americans died yesterday in car crashes, 16 of them pedestrians.

AND NO ONE CARED.

Last week's furor over Elaine Herzberg's killing by an Uber self-driving test car in Tempe, Arizona highlights the total hypocrisy of both sides in the debate over how to improve road safety.

Now here are some strong opinions that deserve debate.

If you believe Elaine Herzberg was collateral damage on the road to a utopia of self-driving safety, you're a stone cold killer.

If you believe Uber alone is guilty and you've never taken a stand in favor of improving human driving safety, you're complicit in the deaths of nearly 40,000 road people a year, 6,000 of them pedestrians.

Where are the marches? Where are the protests on behalf of cyclists and pedestrians? Where is the mass movement for safety? This isn't a left/right issue. There is no correlation between politics and driving skill.

Cars kill more people than guns. Nothing prevents us from taking action to improve road safety today. Nothing.

Self-driving cars may reduce road deaths someday, but if saving lives is truly a first principle for their supporters or critics, then both have a moral obligation to save them by any means necessary. The only moral path to saving lives is the shortest one.

That path is improving human driving safety. Now. Today.

The self-driving lobby would have us believe such efforts are pointless. Why? Because improving human driving skills can never eliminate 100% of fatalities. Why else? It's not as profitable. Or sexy.

Newsflash: self-driving will never eliminate 100% of fatalities.

Even if self-driving cars could reduce road deaths to zero, it will be many decades before they do, and it would require 100% ubiquity. Good luck with that. Not one self-driving car is on sale today, and even if they were, there are hundreds of millions of human driven cars on the road in this country, each with a multi-decade lifespan, and they will continue to be sold until 100% of people choose them, or self-driving is globally mandated. Good luck with that, too.

In the meantime, people will continue to die.

I'm all for self-driving cars...when and where they work. Of course our roads should be safer, but let's doing something about it between now and the day they do. Ask any self-driving engineer: the Level 5 self-driving anywhere/everywhere cars you can sleep in are a long way off. Some companies are doing real work. Many are not.

Improving human driving safety isn't necessarily sexy, and won't be anywhere near as profitable as the self-driving theater that moves stock prices and startup valuations, but it's the moral choice as long as we have one.

My daily driver is a Morgan 3-wheeler; slow and dangerous, with absolutely no safety technology other than a gratuitous seatbelt. I'm in little danger of hurting anyone but myself. Surrounded by cars and trucks every time I drive it to Brooklyn, I take driving deadly seriously. Compared to cars and SUVs, I'm in a casket on wheels. Compared to cyclists and pedestrians, I'm in an armored shell.

Time, Inc./The Drive

Alex Roy & Zack Bowman drive cross country, 2015

Driving anything is an awesome responsibility, no less than waving a gun at a crowd of people one has no intention of shooting. Almost everyone I know says they're a good driver, but that's statistically impossible. Unless and until every human driver makes a good faith effort to meet a higher standard — whether mandated or not — their opinions on safety are irrelevant.

There are two kinds of people in this world; those that would sacrifice others for the greater good, and those that would sacrifice themselves.

The first, made up of the extreme wings of the pro- and anti- self-driving car debate, are guilty of dehumanizing everyone they would claim to care about. The second is anyone and everyone with a moral center. If you want to improve road safety, if you want to save a life, all you need to sacrifice is one day and some dough. Professional driving schools start at $500. The average casket costs $3000. Vote for higher standards. Don't drink and drive. Let's make seatbelt interlocks mandatory. Put down your phone. Educate yourself on how safety features actually work.

Physics is a harsh mistress, but she never lies.

You know who does lie? People trying to sell you safety. You can't buy it. You can only buy part of it. The rest is up to you.

There is no greater form of self-respect than total personal responsibility, which requires taking responsibility for what we do to others. We may drive alone, but we share the roads.

Binary thinking is slavery. The future isn't 100% autonomous or human driven. The balance will sit where we choose it to, if we choose it.

There's some great technology being developed, human-centric semi-autonomous driving software that will make driving more fun and safer, but it's not quite here, and it doesn't get enough coverage from media who don't understand what they're covering.

Total safety — as in immunity from harm — will never exist, but we can choose to make our roads as safe as possible. Today.

If those who enjoy driving want to keep the privilege in era of rising automation, we must stake out a moral position on safety, with demonstrable results. If we don't, we probably don't deserve the freedoms most now take for granted, and may lose in the future.

A lot of people will die needlessly while we dither. We don't need to wait for someone else to save us. Let's save ourselves. Waiting isn't just offensive. It's disgusting. It's cowardice.

And don't trust any outlet that published or retweeted this based on the headline. They're obviously not doing the research, or reading what they repost.

Alex Roy is still alive, and wants you to join the Human Driving Association. It's free. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to update his Wiki as to his health, feel free to do so.