My apology to the automated car

It turns out Cameron Kirby was wrong to be scared of cars that just want to help the driver a bit.

Mercedes-Benz autonomous car technology

It seems I need to say sorry. Sorry for being too harsh, and judging too swiftly. I need to give this apology to the automated car.

I recently wrote an article titled ‘I drove an automated car for the first time… and came away scared”. In it, I relived my first experience behind the wheel of an automated vehicle – a brand new Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

My story hinged on two distinct incidents that rattled my cage, where the car was in its automated mode and drove in a manner that I didn’t feel comfortable with. As it turns out, this wasn’t an accurate representation of how the system works. A combination of an instructor keen to show me the machine’s limits instead of its everyday abilities, and my pre-conceived misconceptions came together to create that story.

I have since had more hands-on with semi-automated technology in a different car. It wasn’t as high-tech as the E-Class, but it was in a similar vein. Given the opportunity to play with it without trying to test the limits, in a variety of everyday situations, I am once again a convert, and realise how wide of the mark I was in my first assessment.

I used an analogy of likening driving with the systems turned on to having a learner driver at the wheel. It turns out that analogy is just about the opposite of how these systems should and do feel when used properly. It is more akin to having an experienced hand watching over you, seeing everything you can’t or don’t, willing and able to step in at the last moment to avoid disaster.

These are driver assist technologies first and foremost, similar to anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control. Having them switched on doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility to drive appropriately. Actually, when you have a car in automated mode, it makes the driving experience so much more relaxing. There is less stress about everything. Yes, you still perform your head checks, and keep a safe distance, and try to avoid straying from your lane. But having this technology on means you have back-up, the car is there to help out when we as humans do what is natural and get it wrong from time to time.

So sorry, automated cars, for overestimating you, and getting my first assessment so wrong.


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