A postprandial sojourn on the sofa is part of any man’s life. The other day, after just such a nap, I awoke to find I had a bit of a sore throat. Well, you can imagine the rest. By the end of the day I had a full-blown man-cold and, as a result, I have fallen behind on the work. Therefore I can’t now report the latest news on driverless cars so much as just comment upon it.
The British government in their infinite wisdom are to allow driverless cars to be tested on UK motorways, helping to make the technology available to consumers by the end of the decade, we are told. The government also aims to remove regulatory barriers so that driverless cars can be used on British roads within the current parliamentary term, according to the Treasury. Trials will be held on local roads this year, with test drives allowed on motorways and arterial roads for the first time in 2017.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said, with his usual ministerial hyperbole, in a statement on Saturday, “At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure. Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine.”
As car makers rush to get driverless cars ready for the road, the odious Osborne is hoping the announcement that will be made in his Budget (today!) will help Britain tap into a global market forecast to be worth £900billion by 2025.
Highways England will run the UK motorway trials and be responsible for safety. It is expected that individual lanes will be closed for the trials, though roads will remain open. The UK trials, which will be designed to ensure the cars’ safety, will help attract investment and enable manufacturers to bring new technologies closer to the point at which they can be sold.
I’m always very sceptical when governments play the ‘investment’ and ‘jobs’ cards. Since the car industry is already in the business of making the things I doubt that, other than manufacturers own R&D costs obviously, not a lot will change. This is why announcements like this are so disingenuous. I simply do not believe it. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I sometimes wonder if this is as much about control as it is about safety.
The rather large elephant in the room however is the great unwashed British public. I have yet to speak to anyone – and I mean anyone – who is champing at the bit to get hold of one of these motors. I’m sure there are people who will welcome them but I think they are in a minority. Enthusiastic drivers won’t like them (although manual control will obviously still be available) and a large percentage of folk fall otherwise into the category of “you won’t get me into one of those things”. People simply don’t trust this new technology.
Of course, driverless cars are still in their infancy and no doubt there may well be some advantages long term. Initially, I wasn’t a fan of electric cars but now I find them perfectly acceptable although sales are still comparatively low for the reasons we all know. The public have taken well to hybrid technology which signals that drivers do have an understanding of the green issues and get that things must change.
So in a generation’s time I expect that whether we like it or not driverless cars will be routinely on our roads and be as accepted as internal combustion because we can’t stop change that is forced upon us. Shame though because this really is the beginning of the end of the pleasure of motoring. Geoff Maxted