Self driving cars are on the rise, but the issue of public trust remains. In the New York Times article “Driverless Cars Made Me Nervous. Then I Tried One,” published in October 2017, David Leonhardt relays his personal experience of driving a semi-driverless car, and uses his own experience of going from skeptical to trusting to try and convince others to have the same change of heart. He uses statistics and studies to make a case that humans are irrational in the case of trust as it relates to self driving cars, and asserts that people should be more trusting and open to them as they get better and better.
Leonhardt effectively blends Logos, Ethos, and Pathos in his article. He starts and ends with a development and reassertion of Ethos. The main body of the article is heavily Logos-reliant, but has Pathos skillfully woven in to add emphasis and make readers care.
Ethos and Trust
Ethos is important in the article, it’s what bookends the whole thing, and serves as a point of entry to open people up to both listening to and accepting the statististics in the body. What’s key is that Leonhardt uses Ethos to frame himself as an everyman, not an authority. Given that his target audience is people who are skeptical of self driving cars, his anecdote is used to set himself up as a person who was also skeptical of self driving cars. He’s reaching across the aisle, effectively saying, “I’m just like you, so you can trust me.” With this, he avoids establishing a confrontational tone, but instead gives readers the notion that if they only look at the evidence he looked at, they’ll naturally come to the same conclusion. With this as a backdrop, he moves on to the body of the article.
Logos and Pathos, The One-two Punch
The body of Leonhardt’s article is fairly dense with statistics, having a link to one every two or three paragraphs throughout the body, and he capitalizes on them effectively. This technique is best exemplified in two sentences, “More than 37,000 Americans died in crashes last year, most from human error. In my community, the heartbreaking toll included a mother, father and their teenage son, killed when a speeding car slammed into their car on one of those busy suburban roads.” This is so effective because it has a linked-to statistic of deaths (Logos), followed immediately by a specific, concrete example, intended to tug at the heartstrings (Pathos). Even if readers’ eyes glaze over, and breeze past the statistic, the case of the family comes in and gives weight to the number. The next paragraph is another blend of Logos and Pathos, where Leonhardt says that cars kill more people than guns. Thus, he reasons, if you care deeply about guns, it makes sense that you should similarly care about deaths from car accidents. This is an appeal to Pathos as it tries to tap into the outrage the audience is likely to feel about guns, but it gets there through Logos, as it’s a simple logical argument that if one death count is higher, you should rationally care more.
Overall, the article has compelling rhetoric, and taps into all three basic forms, Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. Leonhardt orders and blends them well to make a solid case.
Leonhardt, David. “Driverless Cars Made Me Nervous. Then I Tried One.” The New York Times, 22 Oct. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/opinion/driverless-cars-test-drive.html.