Between promises and fantasies, the image of the autonomous car remains unclear. Yet she is coming soon. Very soon even! The first vehicles are expected in 2020 before generalization by 2035. So what to do during an autonomous trip?
According to a recent survey conducted by What Car, in England, 26% of English motorists surveyed could sleep at the wheel of their car if it was navigated independently. A result that contrasts with the overall results of this study: 87% want to keep control over driving, 52% believe that the autonomous car will never be the norm in the United Kingdom. 34% have a poor opinion of it.
A new room in the house
As the Era of the autonomous car approaches, it does indeed appear that the car will become even more of a new part of the fireplace. The question of data protection is fundamental, but the question of daily activities is more concrete.
Finally, a journey in autonomous mode will have all the characteristics of a journey by train, whether it is suburban for commuter trips or TGV for large departures. After the period of uncertainty that will consist of keeping an eye on the road, hands ready to grab the wheel, we will relax. We’ll sit more comfortably in our seat, activate the massage mode if there’s… and then? The idea of taking a nap is a good idea. But will it be legal? This is questionable, at least in the medium term. But who knows! This is what Jean-Claude Van Damme does in the masterpiece Time Cop (1994) when he returns home after a hard day tracking down time travel criminals. Besides, his car has no glass surface. The problem is solved!
Manufacturers who communicate about a bright future in autonomous cars to present drivers who do everything but stay focused on the road. They read the newspaper (paper, not on the tablet!), watch TV on the centre screen of the dashboard and even recline the seat to the horizontal… Will we just stay behind the wheel?
What about car insurance?
However, the question of the Highway Code has not yet been resolved. Yet manufacturers are urging the legislator. Not only to allow autonomous traffic on open roads, but also to define the framework of responsibilities and what it will be allowed to do or not do once the autonomous mode is activated, understand to write in the law whether behind the wheel you can hold your phone, eat, work, read the newspaper, watch television, take a nap, knit or do any other activity or whether the driver will be required to remain alert or even very attentive to a possible failure of the autonomous driving mode, even if it means tiring the driver even more, through boredom.
Another question will eventually arise; the one about car insurance. If driving is expected to eventually reduce the number of road accidents by 80% (by 2035 and according to the NHTSA), how can we justify always having car insurance? Anyway, paying so much for it? Logic would have it that an autonomous vehicle would be (much) cheaper to provide than its equivalent, which would not have one. There is still the question of responsibilities? Who is responsible in the case of an accident in autonomous mode?
What about people with lower incomes who cannot afford an independent car? Will they be banned from urban centres on the grounds of road safety? Will car insurance become the third most important source of dependency for these households after rent and food?
The autonomous car promises to be a phenomenal progress for our urban societies; both in terms of road safety and in terms of consumption, pollution and traffic congestion management, while giving its driver free time.