It would be unusual if you hadn’t read or seen any news items about driverless cars. Whether they’re called autonomous vehicles (AVs), self-driving or driverless cars, these vehicles do not need a driver. That means you and your drivers licence become redundant.
Big fans of technology are excited about AVs because of the ability to add all kinds of smart features. AVs have the potential to increase traffic efficiency, reduce pollution, and stop accidents. They would even be able to talk to each other. Proponents claim AVs will ultimately be so safe, it will become illegal to drive yourself at all.
Not all car brands are excited about making self-driving cars, simply because their job is to promote the driving experience. For example, Jaguar’s design director, Ian Callum, recently claimed he is not “very excited” about the prospect of designing an autonomous car. It is not hard to see why.
As Jaguar Australia’s MD says, “Jaguar is a performance brand, a very emotional brand, a driver’s brand. And one would be very careful of dumbing that down”. Luxury brands like Jaguar focus heavily on the sheer joy of driving and you don’t even need to own a luxury car to enjoy driving.
Will the joy of driving be lost?
It depends on whether self-driving cars will completely replace conventional cars or whether they just take a different role alongside the cars you drive. For example, introducing fleets of driverless cars could potentially:
- Take bad drivers off the road
- Reduce traffic because they are used on-demand only
- Take the chore out of commuting
- Beat the parking problem.
Academics take another stance on driverless cars. Some are concerned about the ethics of running a car that is programmed to act in a particular way in a crisis. Should it run over pedestrians to protect passengers in the car? Or should it turn off the road to save pedestrians but kill the car’s occupants?
A recent study with 2,000 US participants uncovered a moral conflict. While 76% of people believe it is more moral for cars to be programmed to sacrifice their passengers to save pedestrians, they don’t want to own or ride in a car like that. How many lives are saved influenced the perceived morality of the driverless car. Yet nobody really wants to lose a member of their family to save 10 pedestrians.
The big questions – how self-driving cars are programmed, who is responsible in an accident, how they are insured – remain unanswered as yet. Until then, we can continue to experience the joy of driving.