I recently carried out an interview with the Chief Technology Officer of the Volvo Group – not the car manufacturer but the truck, bus and off-road equipment manufacturer. In the course of the discussion, the subject of autonomous vehicles came up. I was quite surprised to hear how much of an enthusiast he was for autonomous vehicles. At the same time he also acknowledged that it was a huge engineering challenge and we didn’t even touch on the legal and insurance issues that will need to be resolved.
It got me thinking though. Generally, motoring journalists are not very keen on autonomous vehicles. That is hardly surprising. We tend to be car and driving enthusiasts, because driving is something we like doing. That said, I have had little doubt for many years that we are in a minority on the roads.
For most people, a car is a means to an end – a way of getting from A to B in comfort and safety. They are generally not that interested in the responsiveness of its steering system, or how well it handles. I suspect that for many, the idea that they could leave the business of driving to the car and its control systems would be a relief.
Then there are those who don’t have the luxury of choice. I know a small boy who is losing his sight. In around 10 years time, when many of his friends will be wanting to learn to drive, it will be an option that is not open to him. An autonomous vehicle could represent a degree of independence for him and many other disabled people who otherwise must rely on others for their mobility.
Then there are the days when we’ve had much to do and there is a long drive still to come. Sometimes it would be good to just let the car do the work.
I think it’s time that we welcomed autonomous vehicles and encouraged the development of safe vehicles, procedures, technologies, legal and insurance developments and anything else that needs to be done. At the same time, many of us will still want to drive. We need to ensure that there is room for both autonomous and driver-controlled vehicles on the roads.
John Kendall The New Chairman of the Western Group of Motoring Writers