Autonomous cars cannot arrive soon enough. It’s time to get people who don’t give a damn about driving, and who can’t drive to save their lives, out of the driver’s seat.
I don’t know if you heard this month the startling news the European Union plans to introduce speed limiters in all new cars sold from 2022. Now, this is one of those things where people read the headline and develop their opinion prior to reading the article.
There are important caveats. Under the rules, new vehicles would use GPS and sign recognition cameras to know the posted speed limit, and then it will ‘assist’ drivers to keep under that limit. The driver can override the limiter by pushing the accelerator presumably through a detente, a safety feature that already exists in cars with manually operated speed limiters. A full on/off switch is also envisaged for the system, at least initially.
New cars would also be fitted with a ‘black box’ recording your every move – this is the more worrying development frankly, given the propensity for data to be transmitted to authorities, whether you’ve been in a crash or not.
Australia is expected to mirror the EU in introducing these supposedly game-changing, road toll-reducing technologies, which also include an ‘alcohol interlock’ and distraction detection. It’s easy to stoke the usual Orwellian fear of a Big Brother watching our every move, protecting us from ourselves. But, really, it is a little bit like that, let’s be honest.
And it all has to do with the fact that members of the public, on the whole, perceive operating a car as a chore and go out of their way to give as little of their energy to the task as possible. At which point they are surprised when they crash and seek immediately to lay blame on another party, to protect a misguided sense of themselves being an exceptional driver, when in fact they’re anything but.
There are two types of people on the road – those who will tell you they’re an above-average driver and that everybody else is garbage; and liars. This is so predictable it’s almost boring.
It’s time to take these people, so disinterested in the genuine joy, challenge, and journey of self-improvement that is driving, not off the roads, but out of the driver’s seat. I’m over this transitional period of technology – active-emergency braking, lane-change assist (where the car steers you back into the lane), anything that may apply the brakes or steering on your behalf. And, now, technologies that force you to agree with whoever has set the speed limit.
I am starting to dream of public roads where those most ambivalent towards driving, and who are the biggest danger to themselves and others – those motivating the development of all these so-called safety technologies – are put in the back seat as a computer assumes chauffeur.
There, they can mindlessly refresh their social media feeds at their heart’s content, or watch entire seasons of Netflix shows – whatever, so long as they’re not dozing at a red light in front of me or putting a quarter of their car in my lane.
Of course, there is no regulatory guarantee people like you and me, who can take the wheel safely, will still one day be allowed to share the roads with computers, and perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. But if it can be possible to have ol’ C-3PO dawdling in the correct lane at a too-low speed limit, and sees me coming better than its occupant would, let’s try to hurry this autonomous thing up.
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