“Drivers have not been asked if they want autonomous cars”

While the British Government seems keen on driverless cars, Mike Rutherford is suspicious about why the public have not been asked if they want them

Never mind the big debate about what’s best: comparatively cheap internal combustion-engined cars, or relatively expensive 100 per cent-electric vehicles. Or, between the two, hybrids that – for me, for now – remain the preferred compromise.  

The next, even bigger, more complex, emotive, life-changing discussion will ramp it up several notches. At its core? Supposedly ‘safe and clever’ autonomous tech driving, instead of us continuing to drive our allegedly ‘dangerous and stupid’ selves. Hmmm! Official warning from yours truly: this will probably be the car-related debate of the century. It’s not a case of if we get driverless cars; it’s a case of when, how much they’ll cost, who will be the brave pioneers to first use them, and which companies will be braver still by insuring them. Legislation will also need to be hugely amended, and then some. Crikes!

Drivers and passengers have not been asked if they want cars that drive themselves. How bizarre is that? Even more bizarrely, the usually clued-up Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and famously clueless British Government do want ’em. Excuse me? What about the views of the people?  The SMMT and Parliament haven’t explained their desire to stop trained, qualified, licensed drivers, er, driving. This cruel ‘dump the driver’ approach is so unfathomable and illogical it’s borderline sinister. I’m deeply suspicious about what’s going on.

Easier to fathom is why the countless people who earn a living from driving are against autonomous vehicles. And rightly so. Many of these hard-working men and women are more mature in years, so when they lose their jobs to self-driving tech, lots will be written off as ‘too old’ for anything else (including retraining), and suffer the soul-destroying process of becoming unemployed and unemployable. For those who say “that’s not my problem,” I have news: it will be. Millions of professional drivers are in danger of being lobbed on the scrapheap, before reluctantly claiming benefits; the dole money they’ll be entitled to will be funded by taxpayers such as yourself, so please keep this in mind before deciding if you’re for or against the mass adoption of vehicles without drivers.

An interesting and (thankfully) interested organisation called 7th Sense Research has in recent days revealed the results of its newest study, which finds a “very large” number of people want to drive themselves, with one in five saying they enjoy their driving. 

“That leaves those brands producing ‘fun’ cars with a much rosier future,” the company tells the many manufacturers who listen to and respect its findings.

“Autonomous vehicles have to be better at driving than the most powerful computers on earth – humans,” the report continues. But the question remains: can self-driving vehicles conduct themselves on the famously flawed and congested highways of Blighty?

“People have yet to see a truly autonomous vehicle that looks fun, cool or desirable,” 7th Sense concludes. Couldn’t have put it better myself. The EV has arrived, and I welcome that. But the driverless car is a vehicle that 99 per cent of us can happily live without.

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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