Cars are getting smarter. So smart that some do not even need a driver to control them. But what do driverless cars mean for motoring?
Modern cars are smart. Some cars can park themselves at the touch of a button. Features like lane departure warning systems, automatic lights and emergency stop systems work together to make our cars safer on the road, but they also take some of the thinking out of driving.
Headlamps will turn on automatically and adjust themselves depending on light availability. Wipers can turn themselves on at the first hint of rain. If a driver begins to lose concentration and drift between lanes, an alarm will alert the driver.
But what about a car that completely takes the thinking out of driving? Imagine getting behind the wheel but not participating in any of the driving; watching your steering wheel move effortlessly while your car takes you to your destination. You can sit back and relax after a hard day’s work and let the car do the driving for you. It would be like travelling on public transport but just much more comfortable.
This is not science fiction. Google are championing the driverless car and the company have several specially developed driverless vehicles which have traversed thousands of miles in the US. Other manufacturers like Audi, Volvo and Ford are already developing driverless technology.
Driverless cars use a highly sophisticated system of GPS, radar and satellites to self-drive. Provided the technology works and there is no catastrophic failure, a driverless car is a safe car. It sticks to the speed limits. By removing the driver, you remove human error. Some people in the business predict a future where cars will “talk” to each other: communicating amongst themselves to improve traffic flow and avoid collisions.
Driverless cars would have a dramatic effect on motoring and anything that improves road safety is of course to be welcomed. They promise a future of safer roads but what about the loss of driving experience?
Who would want to buy a Ferrari or a hot hatch that could drive itself, or even a Ford Focus, a car famed for its drivability? Driving is about the way the engine picks up when you drop a gear, the sensation of acceleration beneath your right foot or your car gripping the road with control and composure as you navigate a twisty road. These are all parts of the driving experience. Take that away from us and where is the pleasure?
It may be a case of personal preference; not everyone’s priorities are the same. New technologies like lane departure warning systems and predictive emergency braking systems are great because they assist our driving to make us safer on the road but they don’t take away control completely. Nor do they take away the pleasure of driving.
Would you trust a self-driving car? Would you happily accept a car that could drive itself?
20th December, 2012