If I pulled out now, I’d die. If I pulled onto this road, in front of this lorry, things would get extremely awful, extremely quickly. It’s a situation I find myself in pretty much every morning.
At least as frequently, I’m in the reverse situation: if somebody else pulls out in front of me, one or both of us will be in a perilous state.
It’s fine. They’ve never pulled out on me, and neither have I on them, but every day in this country, something unspeakably horrible like it happens. A moment’s lapse of concentration, someone looks but doesn’t see, and lives are ruined, or ended, because it was assumed, as a result of half an hour’s vague assessment perhaps 30 years ago, that a driver was safe to handle two tonnes of vehicle at anything up to 70mph. And if they aren’t? Well, that’s life.
Of course, it’s not going to happen to me, just like it’s not going to happen to you, and it wasn’t going to happen to all the people to whom something horrendous has already happened, or is today, or will tomorrow, where bad choices are made and terrible consequences are felt.
It can’t, and won’t, go on like this. In the same way that it was once fine to smoke where you liked, like it was once fine to be penned in at a football match, and like it was considered a spot of bad luck in some heavy industries if you went to work one morning and your family never saw you again, that was then and this is now. There is no reason why travelling from one place to another should be any different: the world gets safer, people live longer and risks get smaller.
And it seems to me that the business of driving – which has been getting safer mostly by virtue of the fact that the boxes we travel in are better built than ever – is on the cusp of a step change enabled by communications technology. For years, legislators, car makers and you and I have wanted roads to be safer and relied on making our boxes safer to crash in order to get there. For the first time, it’s possible to see a way where that becomes a secondary concern – to imagine a target of zero road deaths by ensuring that cars and roads regulate how each vehicle behaves.
Not everywhere, perhaps. Not given the vastness of the road network, the myriad of tiny country lanes, and the randomness and complexity of road users' behaviour. But on motorways and regulated roads in towns, it’s conceivable to imagine a target of zero road deaths, by ceding control to machines.
Trouble is, at the moment, not even radar cruise control can look after a car’s trajectory any better than you or I. So I can’t imagine it happening soon. But, then, when I was nine, I couldn’t imagine anything more sophisticated than Donkey Kong.
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