The chance to get behind the wheel of a Honda Legend without touching the wheel at Honda’s Tochigi Proving Ground reminded me once again that we will all eventually get used to self-driving cars.
I write that confident statement as someone who has experienced such systems developed by other manufacturers before, but who, on my last experience at a UK test, was sat in the rear seat when the system failed, and we narrowly avoided swiping a car alongside us at 70mph thanks to the swift reactions of the lady in the driving seat.
On that day, a heavy rain shower followed by bright sunshine was to blame; the reflections were simply too much for the litany of sensors to distinguish where the white lines were on the road. Out here in Japan, using Honda’s systems, there were no such problems.
And that, I guess, is the point: the technology is moving forward quickly, and different manufacturers are in different places with it. Despite my previous incident, I found it easy to sit back and do nothing, even as we changed lane at 65mph, simply because you have two choices with no in-between - you either trust the technology or you don’t. If I can trust an aeroplane to carry me at 40,000 feet, I can trust a car to move five feet to the left.
Of course, these tests were pretty lightweight, conducted as they were in the secure environment of Honda’s proving ground, with the only traffic being part of the controlled experiment. But the point is that testing has been underway for years, and is reaching a point where it can, in stages, be rolled out to production.
Then, as now, we’ll have two choices: to use the technology or not to. My hunch is that the majority of us will, simply because it will make life better. Think about the things we use and trust today that we couldn’t have envisaged becoming integral parts of our lives; based on this experience, self-driving cars will eventually become another one of them.