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Would you buy a driverless car?

May 02, 2019
David Jordan, Deputy Editor of The Mover, questions whether the world will ever see driverless cars on public roads.
Driverless Cars

Elsewhere in this issue there is an announcement by the UK government that it is backing the development of driverless vehicles by allowing testing to be carried out on Britain’s roads. The government has also said it hopes to see fully autonomous cars on the road as early as 2021. But is that really possible, and do we want them anyway? 

I may be something of a dinosaur, but I enjoy driving my car and the prospect of becoming a perpetual back-seat passenger in some dreary contraption driven by a computer is not something I would want to pay for. I suspect I’m not alone. However, the government estimates the UK market for automated vehicles - cars, vans and trucks - will be worth £52bn a year by 2035, so they must be pretty confident that people are going to want to buy them.

Frankly I don’t believe fully-automated vehicles will be operating on public roads - along with ordinary traffic driven by humans - for a very, very long time, maybe never. It’s one thing to control a vehicle on a test track with known hazards, but quite another to develop foolproof systems capable of dealing with the complexities, both physical and moral, of driving in the real world. There’s also the question of the law, culpability and insurance to sort out.

But while the likes of me are sceptical, there will be others who simply see a car as a means of getting from A to B who will welcome the new technology. The disabled for example, people who are nervous about driving, and of course those who don’t have a licence and never caught the driving bug in the first place.  And if transport companies could use self-driving trucks, it would solve the chronic driver shortage at a stroke.

I believe the switch to autonomous vehicles will eventually happen, but not until roads are adapted to separate them from other traffic and eliminate most of the hazards.  Given the time it takes to simply add an extra lane to a motorway – four years for a 15-mile stretch in the UK - that is likely to take a very long time indeed.

Maybe I’m wrong?  E-mail me at david@themover.co.uk and tell me what you think.

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