I don’t want autonomous cars, but does that matter?

Opening the latest issue of Car Magazine revealed a surprise, as a tweet I had sent had been published in the letters section.

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I still largely stand by the sentiment. Quite honestly, I hate the idea of autonomous cars. You could throw all the data in the world at me about how much safer they are, how much better for the environment, how much they’ll reduce commuting times and congestion, but I still won’t be swayed. And that is simply because I love driving. I love being in control of a vehicle. I love the feeling of the road coming through the steering wheel, that sensation of the engine respond to my right foot, the satisfaction of gears changing at my command. Driving for me is never merely commuting. It is a fully immersive experience, a connection between human and machine.

Although I lamented whether my kids, currently aged 5 and 3, will ever have to learn how to drive, it only recently occurred to me that they might not even care. Perhaps we are living in time of transition similar to that of the transition from horse and carriage to horseless carriage.

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Around the turn of the 20th century, when the early automobiles were first being introduced, they had their fair share of opponents, not least those thoroughly enjoyed riding horses or managing a team pulling a carriage. It is not hard to see why: horses had proved a reliable means of transportation for centuries, and the first cars were noisy, demanded massive changes to infrastructure, required constant maintenance, and were fairly prone to breaking down. The younger generation, however, lauded the advent of the automobile, especially when companies like Ford made them so accessible.

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Perhaps I am that older generation now, resistant to and wary of the inevitable change, whilst my kids will be eager to embrace the new and novel. I’m sceptical that they will provide all the advantages automakers are suggesting, and think there are some serious ethical questions that have yet to be adequately answered. The one thing I can take comfort in, I suppose, is that, like the transition from horse to car, the introduction of autonomous cars will require significant changes as well, particularly to our current infrastructures, and so will take considerable time to fully implement. If I am blessed with good health, I’m quite certain that I will be able to enjoy driving as long as I live, or at least as long as I’m physically able to drive.

Should I be depressed reading CAR’s tech section? In the end, it doesn’t really matter how I answer that question. You’ll have to ask my kids.

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Assisted parking is a useful technology

I am generally disposed towards finding a lot of the new ‘safety’ technology that is being built into cars unnecessary, particularly anything that automises the driving task and takes responsibility out of the hands of the driver.

With one exception: Automated parking.

Now, I need to clarify, because I don’t think all automated parking is necessary. There is a distinction between automated technologies that are useful, and those that are only there to serve the lazy and inept. For instance, automated parallel parking is just for people who can’t drive (although when it’s my car they are trying to parallel park in front of, I find myself less opposed to such a thing). 

But the kind of parking the E-class above demonstrates (at least at the guy’s house – there was less need for it in the parking garage) is useful, especially when you live in places where garages are by necessity very small. It means you can safely store your vehicle without having to climb out of the windows or dinging your doors trying to get out once it’s parked.

Additionally, as someone who enjoys bigger cars but finds himself married to someone who doesn’t, if automated parking meant my wife would be less opposed to driving something like an E-class, rock on.

@jakebeldercars