At certain times, on certain roads, it can proceed without help from the driver (avoiding collisions and speeding fines, and obeying every red light) but it comes under normal driver command on smaller, less trafficked roads.
The second type is a highly automated, pod-like vehicle – some years further away – that plays the part of a tiny, personalised bus. It has no driving controls at all, presenting itself at your front door and conveying you automatically wherever you want to go, without intervention.
The former, which the user might own the same way he or she owns cars at present, will go right on being appreciated for its shape, interior design, refinement, comfort and all the things we appreciate in cars at present.
And why not? Only the boring part of travel will be removed, and most drivers will welcome that, knowing that travel in dense traffic wouldn’t need the concentration demanded at present.
The second will not be so much a car as a curiosity and a convenience. It certainly won’t stop someone who loves cars from having a Corvette or a Caterham in the garage. And even if it’s fully automated, it will still be capable of being appreciated for good design and efficient functionality.
What sells the whole driverless cars concept to me is a simple fact I heard some wise person utter years ago, when I was mindlessly bewailing the overthrow of some “freedom” other. When television was invented, I was sternly reminded, radio didn’t disappear. It just changed a bit.
Exactly the same thing will happen with cars and driving. We’ll still be able to enjoy cars as we do now, but a lot of uninterested, possibly incompetent car operators will be removed from the melee and conveyed automatically. Instead, they will be transported by the most efficient and accident-free possible means.
On its own, this has to be an enormous benefit – before you count the many other advantages driverless cars will bring us by way of fuel efficiency, reduced traffic congestion, fewer parking problems, lower insurance costs and accident prevention. For me, they can’t come too soon.