‘The greatest change in motoring history is coming - but we don’t want it’

Mike Rutherford reckons that instead of telling us what they think we should have, manufacturers and politicians must ask us what we’d like from our cars and roads

Opinion driverless cars

It matters not if car users love or loathe the UK Government, and approve or disapprove of what it now very carefully refers to as “self-driving” cars. What matters is that if our rulers get their way, human cargo will soon be carried in such vehicles on public roads. When we will be asked or forced to travel aboard them is not yet known, but it’s clear the Government is formally and aggressively promoting what it deliberately calls the “self-driving” cause. 

There are confident assurances that “the first types of self-driving vehicles could be on UK roads by the end of this year”. That’s probably an ambition too far, but maybe the Government knows things we don’t. Perhaps it already has answers to the many legal, insurance, infrastructure, cost, safety and other questions recently raised about vehicles that are supposed to drive themselves on congested streets.    

What’s more, our leaders have the apparent backing of the UK’s motor industry. This means an unlikely new partnership, with politicians on one side, car makers on t’other. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says the UK is already a world leader in “self-driving vehicle innovation” and is thus singing from the same hymn sheet as the Government. Interesting. Possibly game-changing.  

So it seems there is little that can stop such vehicles landing on public roads in the 2020s. We’re just not sure whether they’ll arrive in the early, mid, or latter part of this decade. Neither do we know if today’s motoring masses want or need to travel aboard expensive self-driving machines of tomorrow. Probably not, would be my guess. 

This motorist certainly doesn’t. And that’s after many twitchy hours spent inside fast-moving cars that were – in Government speak – self-driving. In Japan I endured rides in cars with eerily empty drivers’ seats – as steering wheels and gearsticks kept themselves impressively but nauseatingly busy. Toyota’s tech guys and Honda’s Asimo robot were keen to strap me in and send me down the road, but, significantly, none of them accompanied me (or my screaming). I don’t blame them, because riding in a car without a driver can be scary – regardless of how often one is given the dubious opportunity to do it.

In South Korea, driverless Hyundais and Kias hauled me around a track near the equally unnerving border with North Korea. On a disused airfield in Germany I felt a tad more relaxed, thanks to the run-off areas and VW engineers who – rightly or wrongly – gave me the impression that they could wrestle back control of the driverless car I was in should its tech go pear-shaped. Maybe I’m a coward, control freak, lousy passenger, or all three, but nothing can prepare a committed driver like me for surreal, stressful rides in cars that do the starting, driving, hazard perception, crash avoidance, stopping (hopefully), and parking for you. I feel queasy thinking about being a human guinea pig cum crash-test muppet as I sat paralysed in cars with no hands on the wheel or feet on the pedals. Take it from me – travelling in a car with no driver is about as appealing, relaxing and enjoyable as the prospect of flying in a plane without a pilot, or sailing on a ship without a captain. 

Check out what happened when we went to test driverless tech with Thatcham...

Recommended

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
'Joe Biden is now America's most important auto industry dude'
Ford F150 Joe Biden
Opinion

'Joe Biden is now America's most important auto industry dude'

Mike Rutherford thinks Joe Biden deserves praise for his hands-on approach to the American car industry
30 May 2021
'This really is a great time to buy a new car'
Opinion dealership
Opinion

'This really is a great time to buy a new car'

Steve Fowler points out some great new car deals to be had in post-lockdown
14 Apr 2021

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
‘The 2030 combustion engine ban is just around the corner – and we’re running out of time’
opinion: charging
Opinion

‘The 2030 combustion engine ban is just around the corner – and we’re running out of time’

Andy Palmer sees electric car uptake revving-up in the UK but says targeted investment is needed to prevent a stall…
22 Jun 2021
Exclusive: Jaguar’s luxury reinvention to start from £100k
Thierry Bollore - Jaguar I-Pace
Jaguar

Exclusive: Jaguar’s luxury reinvention to start from £100k

New boss Thierry Bollore reveals that Jaguar will be reinvented as a luxury car brand to take on Bentley, with the design of a new family already sign…
22 Jun 2021
New Mercedes C-Class 2021 review
Mercedes C-Class - front
Mercedes C-Class

New Mercedes C-Class 2021 review

The new Mercedes C-Class compact exec gets S-Class-inspired tech and new suspension to challenge the BMW 3 Series
21 Jun 2021
New Dacia Duster facelift launched with fresh styling and more tech
Dacia Duster facelift - front
Dacia Duster

New Dacia Duster facelift launched with fresh styling and more tech

The budget-conscious Dacia Duster has been updated for 2021 with some subtle design tweaks and a new eight-inch infotainment screen
22 Jun 2021
New 2021 Peugeot 308 SW estate arrives with more space
Peugeot 308 SW - front
News

New 2021 Peugeot 308 SW estate arrives with more space

The Peugeot 308 SW joins the hatchback in the range and arrives with two plug-in hybrid options
22 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen Caddy California 2021 review
Volkswagen Caddy California MPV - front
Volkswagen Caddy

New Volkswagen Caddy California 2021 review

It’s a family hauler and weekend camper all rolled into one, but is the Volkswagen Caddy California any good?
21 Jun 2021
New 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge EV on sale priced from £49,950
Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge - front
Volvo XC40

New 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge EV on sale priced from £49,950

Volvo has revised the electric XC40’s pricing and trim-level structure, with a simplified three-tier system
22 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen ID.4 GTX 2021 review
Volkswagen ID.4 GTX
Volkswagen ID.4 SUV

New Volkswagen ID.4 GTX 2021 review

VW ID.4 EV gets another electric motor and four-wheel drive in hot GTX form
21 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 2021 review
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 - front
Volkswagen Golf GTI Hatchback

New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 2021 review

The new special edition Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is one of the best cars ever to wear the GTI badge
23 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021