How could self-driving cars change motoring?

It’s early days for autonomous vehicle technology but it has the potential to have some profound effects. Especially if it completely rules the driver out of the equation…

30th June 2017

It seems like The Simpsons has been on television almost as long as we’ve been driving on the roads – which means Homer has plenty of example as to why driverless cars might not be such a bad thing…

Parking

via GIPHY

Some cars already have ‘parking assistance’ that allows the vehicle to manoeuvre itself into tight spots (like this). But they require the driver to be there ‘just in case’. If a driverless vehicle could be trusted to park itself, it could drop you off at your destination and find a space on its own. Hopefully it would make a better choice than Homer.

Learning to drive

via GIPHY

It’s likely that anyone operating a vehicle, autonomous or not, will still require some sort of training in order to do so. But the arrival of autonomous vehicles is expected to result in changes to the Highway Code and possibly the skills taught while a new driver is learning. Maybe in this situation Homer is a little too enthusiastic to learn the law...

Taxis

via GIPHY

If a car can take you anywhere without you having to drive, why do we need taxi drivers? Uber has stated that its plan is to eventually operate an autonomous fleet. So while it may be goodbye to awkward conversations with drivers, there may also be considerable job losses, a sentiment Homer seems none too happy about.

Sleeping

via GIPHY

If autonomous vehicles reach a point where the controls can be entirely handed over to the car, there’d be no need to stay awake during the journey. You could simply get in, buckle up and nod off, although we can't imagine the law would look too fondly on it, especially in Homer's sate.

Tourism

via GIPHY

You’re visiting a city and you want to see the sights. Would you rather get on a tour bus, or hop in a car and let it ferry you from one destination to the next? While it might be fun to jump on an open-top bus, there’s always the threat of rain spoiling the trip - or students.

Road haulage

via GIPHY

Goods reach us aboard vans or lorries, but drivers can only be at the wheel for a specific number of hours each day. Autonomous vehicles could make long trips without rest stops. Faster journeys and greater fuel efficiency equals lower costs, but potentially another career in jeopardy. Who knows, maybe Homer and Bart discovered it's already here...?

Read more:

 


This is an edited extract from issue 307 of BBC Focus magazine – make sure you don’t miss out on the full article every issue and subscribe here.