Pedestrians May Have To Be Penned In For Driverless Cars To Work

Driverless Cars: Do We Really Want To Stop Driving?

Pedestrians May Have To Be Penned In For Driverless Cars To Work

Driverless cars have become the holy grail of the automotive industry. Billions have been invested and enormous controversies contended with. But has anyone actually asked, ‘do we really want to stop driving?’

What Is Driving?

It might sound obvious, but what do we perceive ‘driving’ to be? Anyone who’s taken a few lessons knows the physical processes involved. But how do we approach it, with the trepidation of someone with a job to do or someone with all the enthusiasm of a hobbyist? The first cars, or ‘automobiles’ were anything but practical. In fact, they were so slow and cumbersome that you’d have been able to out walk them. Unfavourable legislation, especially in Britain, also stifled their accessibility and development for decades at the end of the 19th century. The so-called ‘red flag’ laws limited vehicles to 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in towns and cities; but always required a vehicle be led by a person equipped with a red flag, alerting people to its presence.

What the red flag laws demonstrate is that our relationship with automotives wasn’t one born of convenience or even necessity. In 1902, a motoring journal eloquently declared “in Europe it is openly recognised that the main excuse for the speed mania is the desire to feel new sensations and juggle away the emptiness of a purposeless life.” For early pioneers, it was a passion and a labour of love. It suggests that driving was perceived as a hobby or source of entertainment before they offered genuine utility.

Is It Really A Question Of Safety?

Elon Musk, Tesla’s charismatic CEO and arguably the most well-known advocate of driverless cars, has full faith in the technology. He’s gone as far to suggest that, one day, our descendants will look back on manual vehicles with dismay. He said, “people may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a person driving a two-tonne death machine.” The reality, however, is that millions of people take to the roads everyday without issue. In fact, road-related injuries and deaths are declining in the Western world.

Fears of safety are clearly not motivating a desire for change. In fact, survey after survey has demonstrated consumer distrust in autonomous driving technologies. In some American states, like Arizona, people have actually been attacking driverless cars. Uber has also accused regular motorists of “bullying” it’s autonomous fleet. There have also been six recorded fatalities involving ‘autonomous’ vehicles and numerous reports of motorists misusing autonomous features; like Tesla drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

Does Driving Inconvenience Us?

The great task of autonomous car advocates is not to make driverless cars as attractive as manual vehicles. Instead, they need to make them more attractive to motorists. That means they need to be safer and much, much more convenient. But to determine whether they will be more convenient, we really need to consider how the driving experience (so to speak) affects us today. In the UK, the average commute is around 18.5 miles; or 42 minutes travel time. For most of us, its the commute that makes up most of our annual mileage.

Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that whilst millions of people drive, most of us don’t drive very far. Indeed, more and more people don’t drive as a part of their commute; with thousands taking to trains, bicycles and simply walking. This doesn’t seem to leave an enormous amount of room for driverless cars. To make matters worse for advocates, urban centres all across Europe are beginning to pedestrianise; suggesting that, to some, dirty cars aren’t the problem…Cars in general are.

Driving Can And Often Is Enjoyable

Driving can be hard work and, at times, stressful. Whether it’s getting stuck in traffic, dodging manic drivers or the associated costs. Indeed, the process of learning to drive can be so daunting and time-consuming that driverless cars might have to wait for previous generations to effectively die; before capturing the popular imagination of a new audience that’s never experienced manual driving. But none of this negates the fact that driving can be enjoyable and is enjoyed by very many people. We choose cars that suit our personalities as well as our routines, customise them and show them off and personalise their interiors with trinkets and our favourite music. We even deliberately set off on lengthy and demanding journeys for the sense of freedom they afford us.

Different Directions 

For driverless cars, there are really two possible directions the industry can go in. It can elect to produce cars that, resembling manual ones, capture the essence of what we’re familiar with. They’ll still have steering wheels and the seats will be in the usual spaces. But, should we be driving from London to Glasgow, we’ll find our eyes drifting to a little button or dial. Once activated, we’ll be able to sit back and focus on whatever it is we’d rather be getting on with. The other direction, much more controversial, will involve presenting the public with alien-looking models that resemble something out of a cheap sci-fi flick. These won’t have a steering wheel and the interior will resemble more of a lounge.

Given the sheer number of motoring clubs, the historic role of the car as a status symbol and the sub-cultures that have emerged around our motors, automakers that opt for the former variant might just have an advantage over the latter…What do you think?

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