The summer holidays are upon us. The rain is falling, the skies are grey, the temperature is dropping and all over the country thousands of children are being strapped into the back of cars ready for the long haul to the coast/countryside/continent. Despite all previous experience to the contrary, tens of thousand of us will take to the roads over the next six weeks, ever optimistic in the expectation of a nice run to our holiday destination. In many cases we will not escape the outskirts of our home town before we hit the first traffic jam and within five minutes cries of “Are we there yet?” will emanate from the small people in the back, lost under the pile of buckets and spades, spare duvets, surf boards and the dog.
Driverless cars may present a solution to the age old tedium of the summer holiday traffic jam. Whilst some children already have the benefit of in car DVD players to watch, in the utopian future of driverless cars, perhaps the whole family will be able to sit round together and watch a movie as they edge closer to their destination. Or may be a family game of cards, a meal or the otherwise impossible nappy change will become routine in our mobile living rooms. The tedium of the motorway traffic jam may become an opportunity to take a more leisurely view of the surrounding countryside.
Whilst there is undoubtedly a lighter side to the onward march of progress, the introduction of driverless cars may have some potentially serious, although beneficial, consequences for travel in the holiday season.
Assuming that rigorous testing leads us to a point where technology reduces or even eliminates the input of the “driver” when undertaking a long journey, those many thousands of motorists who, for most of the year, do not venture more than a few miles from their own home, will be in a position to undertake a long motorway journey without the much increased risk of accident that unfamiliarity with high speed long distance driving creates. Emerging on to a motorway once a year, the holiday driver can often be guilty of poor lane discipline, inappropriate speed, failing to leave adequate distance between vehicles and a failure to signal before manoeuvring. All are potential causes of serious accidents, which may well be avoided if the car takes charge.
Fatigue is also a major cause or contributor to accidents as people attempt far longer journeys than they are accustomed to or find even a short journey taking several hours due to the volume of traffic. Nodding off at the wheel may never become acceptable but it may become less hazardous if we reach a point where the car is capable of fully automated control.
Technical failures may also become less likely. The breakdown beside the motorway may be less common if the car takes itself to the nearest garage, anticipating some mechanical fault. Fewer families would then be left stranded and vulnerable at the roadside.
Automated traffic management, ensuring that vehicles travel at appropriate speeds an appropriate distance part, in the correct lane, may also substantially aid traffic flow, such that the hold up caused by volume of traffic alone is eliminated from our journeys.
And of course, those delightful small people in the back seat cannot distract artificial intelligence when it is driving in the same way that they might distract Mum or Dad. “Are we there yet?” would simply produce an automated and very precise answer from a machine.
We may well be some way from achieving the perfect holiday journey but we can at least dream of the prospect whilst contemplating the rear of the caravan in front for 6 hours on the M5 this weekend.