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Could driving become illegal?

It’s illegal to drive unregistered or uninsured, over the speed limit or under the influence of drugs and alcohol. What if it were illegal to drive at all?

Professor Robert Sparrow of Monash University says, if driverless cars prove to save lives and eliminate or reduce crashes, it should be illegal for people to drive. It’s a radical prospect, as driving cars is still so fundamental to everyday life in Australia. For some, it’s a pleasure.

Sparrow, who spoke at a fleet conference in Melbourne, said driverless cars should not even have a steering wheel:

“When you put your hands on the steering wheel, you are equivalent to a drunk robot, and you are elevating the risk to me. So I am going to legislate that your car shouldn’t have a steering wheel.”

Driverless cars not far off

The era of driverless cars is not as far off as you might think.

The future of autonomous cars may already be unfolding in the Isle of Man. It’s an island of fewer than 90,000 people that already appeals to auto-freaks because of superbike racing and lack of speed limits. The island is so small, it could quickly change its laws to accommodate autonomous cars.

Chris Riddell, Australian futurist, believes self-driving cars will use Australian roads as early as 2020 and Volvo agrees. Already in Adelaide, the Australian Road Research Board successfully trialled a modified Volvo XC90 to drive itself down the Southern Expressway. Volvo also stated it will offer full insurance liability for its autonomous cars.

Several things have to change before driverless cars become the norm in Australia.

Putting them on the road

First, people are simply afraid of them. Second, legislation must be changed to legally put them on the road. Third, carmakers and dealers are unlikely to embrace them as the focus moves away from ownership to mobility systems, which include public transport and car fleets for hire. The need for expensive traffic lights, road signs or other motoring infrastructure will slowly diminish.

Riddell says eventually we will be looking at why we still allow people to drive manually.

Much will depend on changing state laws and insurance to deal with this radical new landscape. After all, CTP insurance is currently based on the driver, such as their age, gender, address, number of demerit points and any previous offences.

Until this driverless utopia, drivers can get in behind the wheel of their car and enjoy whatever driving means to them. Or, as Steve Shearer of the SA Road Transport Association rather colourfully notes:

“I don’t think there’d be too many bank robbers who use a driverless car as their getaway vehicle.”

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