When I first read about driverless cars I dismissed the idea as just another gimmick from the hard-up, planet-wrecking, machismo-fueled, turbo-charged turd-makers we call the motor industry.
Another hunk of metal sold to us as a lifestyle choice and an extension of our personalities, I thought. Another way to crush the humans. An exciting new range of grey, blue and black people containers that force everyone to cede power to a computer, which then couriers you along the rush hour motorway at 6 mph, saving you the bother raising your weary head.
They don’t even want you to hold on to the wheel and pretend. They want to remove what small vestiges of joy are left to someone travelling on four wheels.
And anyway, we already have driverless cars. They are called trains.
So I thought.
Later, however, I was persuaded by one or two people who’d thought quite deeply about this technology to not be so glib.
If your instant reaction to this whole concept was but I rather like driving, well that was mine too. Except I don’t.
Driving is a joyless, anxious chore. When I drive I don’t feel like James Bond, I feel like an idiot participating in a terrible conspiracy, often at very low speed.
My dream car, the machine I admired from childhood, I now look at as a sort of abomination. Driving is a 70s dream. We have to let it go.
Driving can be a joy, but so can a playing computer game. A year or two from now you might get to decide which you would rather be doing as you commute down the M11.
Think about how our mostly rubbish towns and cities became so utterly tiresome and rubbish. It’s almost entirely because we gave cars top priority.
Cars need access, cars need options, cars need car parks and ring roads and one-way systems and traffic lights and signage and more lanes and more barriers.
Knock this down and modernise was the mantra, build another bypass. Inner and outer ring roads became like fortress walls and moats, blocking people from their public spaces.
What happened to our beautiful river front? Mr 70s decided it should be a dual carriageway.
Petrol Heads everywhere seem to hate the idea of Driverless Cars. And I think it’s because the average suburban Clarksonoid is so incensed that I decided to listen a little closer to this argument.
About 2000 people a year are killed on our (UK) roads. It used to be a lot higher. Those deaths are almost never due to mechanical failure. It’s almost always human error.
I imagine if that dropped to say 20 a year because there was no human error.
Imagine ‘the city’ being able to talk to every car and every car being able to talk to the city. Imagine how the city could guide the flow of traffic to maximum effect, avoiding the local annual silly hat parade or the route of a charity three-fifths marathon (they have those, right?).
The city and your car would know exactly where the nearest available parking space was, then let someone else know the minute you had vacated it. (How much of your life have you spent prowling for a space?)
Imagine all the electric vans making silent deliveries while the city sleeps, so that they are not part of the rush-hour dash.
Imagine the white-van-man has nothing to do on his way to work but stare out of the cab window…well no, don’t imagine that.
Imagine the city knows you and your car, where you commonly go, what time, and how long you tend to stay there before returning. Tap into that info and it sounds like you have the perfect basis for a car-pooling app, or a hitch-hiking revival.
But perhaps hitch-hiking with an eBay-style ratings system…
Megadeath1998 is 100% a nice passenger and needs a lift to Ashby de la Zouch… …You go there now and then. Can you take him along? He will chip in £5 for petrol via paypal. Don’t forget to leave positive feedback.
Imagine children allowed to play in the street again.
Imagine approaching the multi-storey car park, except now you get to climb out at the entrance to the cinema while your car goes up those 11 tedious floors.
Imagine driving to the pub but being driven home.
Imagine all the signage and clutter they could remove from your town or city because driverless cars obey the rules and know where they are going.
This might all seem a long way off right now and a little far fetched, but technologies like this have a habit of starting life as impractical, too costly and inferior to the current system. But as we’ve seen so often they can quickly overtaking everything.
Digital Cameras were once too expensive and not good enough. So were mobile phones. Then suddenly they overtook, like some angry silicon-based Clarkson on his way to sale at Halfords.
Technologies like this also have a habit of dismantling a lot of old familiar infrastructure, and permanently. Look at this picture and image what that might mean. And the Government is already preparing the way.