Driverless cars don’t make us want to drive less

July 14, 2017
Andy Bothwell

This week, Audi unveiled its latest autonomous car tech in the new incarnation of its A8 model, causing much media chatter about the car’s ‘level 3’ autonomy capabilities.

According to Audi, the new A8 will use more than a dozen sensors that will allow drivers to focus on other activities, such as watching movies on the in-car infotainment system at speeds of up to 37mph. As long as oncoming traffic is safely behind a barrier on the other side of the road.

Talking of barriers, although the amount of noise about autonomous cars continues to ramp up making it seem inevitable that driverless cars will be with us imminently, there are still many hurdles to overcome.

Not least is global legislation, which is progressing at different rates in every country, even in individual nations within Europe. Audi reckons its technology will use ‘geofencing’ capability to make sure that its A8 and its occupants are complying with national regulations when it crosses borders.

There are other problems too – and one of them is more fundamental than most. Currently, the general public do not trust autonomous vehicle technology enough to hand over control on the road and it seems that acceptance is still a very long way off.

A significant majority of British motorists say they wouldn’t share the road with ‘robots’ while one in four Americans don’t trust the technology either.

At an even more base level, many drivers don’t want to hand over control of the wheel either. The purists are always going to say that, of course, but it’s a fact that driving has become an activity to savour and enjoy in its own right.

Recently, the Performance Communications office took a three-week loan of a Caterham Seven 270R (thanks to the fine gentlefolk of that particular client team) and a goodly handful of our number had the opportunity to sample it during its stay.

For the uninitiated, the Caterham Seven is devoid of any such driver aid technology. Its design has remained largely unchanged for 60 years since Colin Chapman originally conceived it. There is no ABS, no traction control, no sat nav. Hell, there’s not even a radio and the roof is held on by poppers.

It’s one of the most spartan, down and dirty driving experiences you’ll ever have.

It’s also one of the best, most visceral and most thrilling.

I’ve worked with the guys and gals at Caterham Cars for more than 11 years now so I’m bound to say that. But don’t take my word for it – the point of the 270R loan was to introduce the wider team here at Performance to the products offered by one of our oldest clients.

The response from those who got to drive the car (we had to draw names out of a hat, such was the fervour to try it) was universally and emphatically positive, with comments ranging from a breathless “Awesome” to “If I had the money right now, I’d buy it in a heartbeat”.

The unbridled joy I witnessed, admittedly from a bunch of self-confessed car junkies, proves to this writer at least that our love of driving – especially when the experience is as electrifying as the Seven offers – is undiminished and will take a long time to dislodge.

Autonomous cars are undoubtedly on their way but I think, as a tribe of drivers, we’re simply not willing to give up our addiction and take our hands off the wheel yet.

Andy

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