Driverless cars are coming

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…But they may drive us mad!

Driverless cars.Indian Link

In the past few years, every time the ‘Most liveable city in the world’ survey comes out, marvellous Melbourne pips affable Adelaide at the post. But it may not be for long. Next time Adelaide will zoom past its eastern rival by a country mile. What driving force will crank up this southern laggard to leap frog?  Driverless cars! Yes, automobiles that will soon become actually automatic. And it is Adelaide that has been chosen in the entire southern hemisphere to trial driverless cars this November.

Why Adelaide of all places? It was the only city with a one-way expressway connecting its southern suburbs to the city.  An earlier cost-conscious government hit upon the idea of an expressway where traffic would flow in one direction towards the city in the morning and the opposite direction in the evening to cope at peak-hours. You may think it is the best way to drive the tax dollar further. But not the Adelaideans. They let out a stream of crappy jokes in cruise control mode. Shock jocks jumped on the bandwagon to mock the ‘one direction’ road show. Taking out more loans to add more lanes, the current rulers have made it a dual carriageway giving it the right to push auto technology to a higher gear, trialling driverless Volvos.

The moment this plan was announced, it opened the doors for talk-back radio titans to have a tilt at the state of affairs saying “Driverless cars are a perfect fit for a government without direction”. The dawn of driverless cars can bring a number of benefits and, on the flip side, an equal number of unintended consequences.

Firstly, no more road rages, side-swipes or rear-end collisions. No need to fork out for drivers’ licences. An enormous saving of time for everyone – on the way to work, keyboard warriors can tap on their tablets, women can put on their make-up, blokes can trim their beards and tradies can tweet their mates – with no worries about being pinged by police. The hospitality industry will hit the jackpot with pubs pulling in lot more customers to booze up without fear of copping drink driving fines. Cops will be confounded as to who to issue a notice – man or machine? And no more carping comments on my driving from the back-seat driver. The benefits are boundless.

Driverless cars.Indian Link

Don’t let your imagination go on a joy ride, though. If accidents are totally eliminated, the first industry to crash will be the crash repair industry. But motor mechanics, take heart. Even during the limited trials in California some accidents have happened. It will become a battle of blame shifting between insurance companies when two driverless cars collide. Lawyers’ picnics loom large. With disappearing driving licence fees and dwindling traffic fines, the State treasury may run dry.

They may work wonders world-wide, but one country where driverless cars won’t be a sound success is India where only non-stop honking gets your car inches ahead. No driver, no honking, no move forward. Besides, those cars can’t read the sign “Please sound horn,” on the back of every truck. The worst challenge for those computer-controlled cars is not bugs, but bovine bollards. How can they comprehend the unmo(o)ving cows on Indian roads?  If they can’t tackle animals standing still, what chances do these cars have of not hitting hopping kangaroos on Australia’s outback roads?

The driverless concept will have dire consequences for the new Indian migrants who, for want of opportunities, take up taxi driving until they land a job in their professional area. Another door slammed shut.

Honda hopes to have driverless cars on the road by around 2030, but Volvo visualises it sooner. So I need to start planning what brand to buy for Diwali then. A Volvo?  No chance for anyone to sneer at.

With all the software giants racing ahead with their models, I am inclined towards a Google ‘gadi’ since its search engine is considered the best.  Will I have a soft corner for Microsoft if it makes one? Umm… It may have too many Windows and require frequent updating.  An Apple auto seems apt, as an Apple a day may keep an accident away. And when it gets very old, no one can call it a lemon.

Regardless of whatever brand I select, there will be one nagging worry. As these vehicles will be run by computers, sudden crashes cannot be ruled out. In an emergency, if I need to shut down the engine, do I have to start as with computers? Can’t imagine the consequences. The mind boggles. Driverless they may be, but they are sure to drive us mad.