Far from taking the fun out of motoring, driverless cars are just what enthusiasts should be embracing.
I’m driving down the highway at 120kph and I’ve just taken both hands off the wheel. No, I’m not driving with my knees, playing games on my phone or carrying out a death wish, I’m just conducting an experiment to see if the shiny systems in the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class performs as advertised. As the car begins to veer to the left and off the road, the steering wheel is spookily tugged to the right by an invisible electronic hand and back into the lane and away from an accident. Meanwhile the traffic ahead of me is slowing down and speeding up and the car is magically adjusting its speed to match the conditions. This is all part of what Mercedes calls Intelligent Drive, a genius system that uses cameras, sensors and radars to essentially allow the S-class to drive itself.
If you think I’m exaggerating then you’ll be as surprised as I was to hear a Mercedes head honcho bluntly state that the new S-class could do without the driver, but that global legislation doesn’t allow them to sell a driverless car. Yet. He wasn’t referring to an episode of Knight Rider – although Kit the talking Trans Am is way cooler than an S-class – or some futuristic sci-fi movie; this is a car on sale now. Apparently Merc isn’t the only firm that views driverless cars as a modern reality rather than a flight of fancy. Nissan insists it will have developed an autonomous car by the end of the decade and Google has been successfully testing a car that drives itself for some time now. If you don’t believe me, you can Google it.
All this talk of cars that could drive themselves got me weighing up the pros and cons, and despite my love of driving I had to conclude that the driverless car would be a good thing. Imagine how many lives would be saved if you removed the human error element from driving, and think how it would change the lives of people unable to drive due to physical impairments. In addition, traffic would be so much more manageable if cars were talking to each other and not relying on us to make decisions. Not to mention no longer having to put up with smelly taxi drivers that don’t understand that the throttle isn’t an on/off button.
The enthusiastic driver could still go out of town for a drive just for the fun of it, or head to a racetrack for some thrills and leave the mundane task of daily commuting to a computer. If you think about it, you’d be much more likely to crave that drive out to find an amazing road on the weekend if you haven’t spent the week fighting through traffic. Bizarrely, the conclusion I’ve come to is that the driverless car might end up being the best thing to happen to those that truly value the thrill of driving.
Bassam Kronfli is the editor-in-chief of Evo Middle East magazine.