– Or Will They? Just as Ford’s shiny black car replaced the horse, driverless cars are probably the next revolution in transport. But like any other revolution, not everybody wants to get in behind it. This makes sense: most humans like being in control. Not only do they want to be in control, they still want to have fun when driving.
Are driverless cars fun? So far, the experts focus almost entirely on the safety benefits of driverless cars.
After all, 90% of accidents on the road are caused by human error. The argument goes, if you take away human control, then a lot more people will stay alive or avoid serious injury. This is a noble goal. It’s also a huge human undertaking to create a vehicle that can anticipate every single possible event on the road and know what to do next.
What makes driving fun?
Not everybody drives a car because it is fun. You could probably divide the driving population into two camps – the practical A-to-B types and the experiential types. The experiential group is looking for some extra pizzazz or buzz from driving. They are the ones who buy Porsche or Ferrari, a 1965 Ford Mustang, or the early adopters who will go out and buy Renault’s latest concept car, the Symbioz (pictured).
Like motorbike riders, they are passionate, sentimental, and deeply attached to their vehicles. Do you remember your first car? That’s the feeling driving gives you. It’s a gorgeous ticket to independence and freedom. It’s a symbol of you asserting your own way in the world. As one commentator wrote: “cars are driven not by fuel, not by engines, not by gears, but by emotions”.
In this context, how can a driverless car ever really be fun?
We don’t understand them
The big problem with driverless cars is we don’t really understand them. It’s probably very similar to when people looked into the eyes of their much-loved horse and wondered how on earth a vehicle with engine and wheels could ever replace her.
Experts say we may confuse assisted driving technologies, such as lane keeping or automatic braking, with full autonomy. For example, Audi’s new A8 allows hands-off driving in certain very specific cases, but you are never meant to just sit back and let it do the driving. The gulf between assisted driving technologies and complete autonomy is very, very wide. Transport secretary, Chris Grayling said he wants to see self-driving cars on UK roads by 2021. But they are highly likely to be motoring alongside regular cars, not replacing them. Even this is a dangerous idea.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is learning to trust a driverless car. One of the joys of driving is being able to trust your own skill. How many drivers love to take a risk because they feel experienced enough to handle it? Trusting a machine completely is another step.
Two driving worlds
At the International Driverless Summit in Australia, Dr Richard Fairchild of Aurrigo, talked about a new possibility. He claimed much of driving is mundane. Travelling along highways for miles and miles with nothing much to see except flat fields or endless suburbs, is dull. Driving on congested city roads is frustrating. He says he would love an autonomous car to take over the tasks of dull driving. But when he’s not going to work, or driving across London, he wants a 15-year old Porsche.
Another argument for driverless cars says there is a difference between driving as a business – trucks, taxis, delivery vans – and personal motoring. Driverless trucks, taxis and vans can take away high risk, mundane driving. But personal driving is a different matter. In your own vehicle, the one where you have your own hands on the wheel, it will still be fun.
It is still too early to say how driverless cars will change the world. But they will not change human nature.
Author James Kemp, website https://www.greenslipcalculator.com.au/