I was going to stay off this subject for a while. But a few weeks ago someone wanted me to talk about autonomous cars at a conference.
Actually, they wanted me to have an argument about them, so here I am.
“We want one person to be in favour of autonomy,” they said, “and one against it.”
My pleasure, I said. And, naturally, given that I’m basically a paid driver and scribbler on the world’s longest-established car magazine, everyone I spoke to in advance assumed I’d be against cars taking over.
Not a bit of it, I said. Well, quite a few bits of me are concerned about it, obviously, but they wanted an argument and I was happy to give it, because, broadly speaking, I think self-driving cars will liberate us all.
I have a hope, you see. A vision.I have a hope that cars, lorries and buses that can drive themselves to some extent will give us quicker, less stressful and safer journeys. Which isn’t a bad place to start, is it?
Today, you get into a car at the start or end of a day at work and do nothing but sit. In fact, you’re expressly forbidden by law from doing anything else but sitting and operating controls. Which is fine, if you like doing that, but unless your commute starts in one rural area and ends in another, you won’t be having a great deal of fun in the meantime.
But if your car could, once you got to a certain stretch of road, take over, well, then you could start doing something useful. After which the car would hand control back to you when you wanted it to, or when the controlled bit of road comes to an end, and you continue.