The car as we know it has dramatically changed: driverless cars have arrived and in the coming decade, these will become more advanced and available to the mass market. But what does this mean for the everyday driver?
The advent of autonomous, driverless cars now means that for the first time in history, the car, rather than the driver, can be in control. But how are driving skills affected by effectively demoting the driver in this manner? The gradual addition of semi-autonomous technology to the car can undoubtedly benefit safety; for example, it can be advantageous to have the assistance of technology when driving at night, in foggy conditions, or in torrential rain.
But a concern is that over time, as drivers become less used to tricky, demanding conditions, this will reduce their driving skills. At present, commercially-available semi-autonomous systems are not designed to completely replace basic driving skills and it can cause problems when drivers consider that the car is more responsible for the driving than they are. However, as driverless car technology advances and cars become fully autonomous, driver skill may become irrelevant: someone without a licence may be allowed to have their car drive them to their destination autonomously, but may not be allowed to control the vehicle at any point, whereas someone with a licence may be allowed to do so. Interestingly, the increasing prevalence of these systems will have economic implications for industries such as taxi services and logistics.
The level of technology which is currently incorporated within commercially-available semi-autonomous cars is certainly impressive. Standard everyday car models now include driver-assist technology which, for example, can ensure that the car stays within the lanes of a motorway, automatically and safely brakes in the event of an accident, or guarantees that the car has enough of a gap to the car ahead or behind. But a major concern regarding the advent of semi-autonomous car technology is that drivers are relying too much on the available technology and actually cause problems through inattentiveness and distraction.
For example, figures now suggest that the incidence of individuals using smartphones whilst driving, to perform actions including texting or browsing the internet, is on the rise. Additionally, a recent poll suggested that only a minority of people would actually only monitor a self-operating car, and not perform other activities, when in that situation.
However, manufacturers including Tesla and Nissan are incorporating innovative safety features in order to combat laziness and inattentiveness and prevent drivers placing too much faith in the autonomous systems. For example, safety features now include specific eye-tracking sensors which prevent drivers from taking their eyes off the road or systems which stop the car if the steering wheel is not touched for a certain period of time.
Overall, fully-autonomous cars offer the potential for an individual to use their time productively in a car. But currently, over-reliance on semi-autonomous car features are likely to degrade driving skills and drivers are placing too much faith in the on-board systems.