Are driverless cars really the future?

March 13, 2017 By Phil Curry

We are fast moving towards a world where simple tasks are being made easier, if not being done for us. Automation can be a wonderful thing, but is this necessarily true in the transport world?

I don’t know about you, but I make for a nervous passenger. I will always go for the phantom brake pedal, or think about where I would turn in to a corner. It does ruin rides in racing cars, but the fact is that I like to be in control of machinery. Therefore I am not the customer that manufacturers are aiming for with their driverless vehicles.

Ford has plans to bring them into use for public transport purposes by 2021 while others are in advanced stages of testing. Around Milton Keynes and Coventry there are smaller ‘shuttle’ type vehicles pounding the streets in official tests and in caves under Sweden, Volvo is running a driverless truck program.

The problem? Ford believes there are three key areas which will hamper the technology, these being cost, adoption and regulation. Like all new technologies on the road, cost and adoption are obvious barriers – electric cars have seemingly only just started to overcome these. Regulation is an interesting one however, as the current vehicle has two forms, that over the car itself, and that over the driver.

Remove driver regulation and place it on the vehicle too and you are asking a lot. The human element of a vehicle can take action, understand driving risks and take control in a crisis. Would a driverless car culture mean the end of the driving test, for example? Would you want a non-qualified driver behind the wheel to take command should the computer fail at 70mph on the M25?

Should the driver remain alert at all times – or can they sleep in the car, read a newspaper? Where must a driver sit, behind the wheel or wherever they want? It’s harder to work behind a steering wheel if that is what they chose to do. What exactly are we asking a driver to do?

Should occupants in a driverless car – one that is not a small shuttle but a regular car with all the technology included, have passed a driving test, stay alert and sit behind the wheel? In that case, what is wrong with them having control at all times in the first place? Perhaps it is safer to take the ‘less’ out of driverless cars after all.