The interest in autonomous cars in both the popular, industry and academic literatures is becoming overwhelming. There is a sense that this future is totally desirable and we cannot wait to see all cars (as well as buses and trucks) sold without a steering wheel and operated by a computer using rules derived from machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Despite the many advantages primarily linked to safety gains as a result of taking total control away from the driver, and the less clear prospect of significantly reduced traffic congestion on our roads (or at least much more predictable travel time variability), one has to ask the question – what if we actually like driving our cars?
Might we consider a future where there is a sense of respect for drivers who do not cause accidents, and to focus on finding ways to utilise in-vehicle technology and any remote computerised monitoring to control a vehicle (much like we can already do with aircraft and trains) so as to mitigate the consequences of actions by those on the road who are a danger to themselves and society? It seems to me that we have this capability already and/or could easily integrate it into the advanced technology of cars and trucks that are already on the roads of today.
Specifically, car manufacturers should (and are able to) build in compulsory standard technology to detect who is in car (especially children) and the number of such people, the presence of alcohol or other drug smells associated with anyone sitting in the driver’s seat, and to deny starting of the engine.
Drivers on P-plates already provide data to the motor registry of their age and the obligations they have in respect of drink driving (zero reading) and number of passengers they can carry by age, and it seems very possible to have this embedded in the programming of the start-up of a vehicle with the salient reminder of obligations and compliance with the law as well as a check undertaken to establish if the engine start of the car will be allowed to occur.
If we were to see such technological initiatives, then one might question why we must move to level 4 or level 5 (see below) in the autonomous vehicle classification spectrum with total removal of a driver’s role in steering a vehicle. This might open up choices for those who still wish to drive their car and act responsibly on the road without fear of being involved in an accident caused by others.
This is what is meant by "fully autonomous." Level 4 vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip." Tis is limited to the "operational design domain (ODD)" of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.
This refers to a fully autonomous system that expects the vehicle's performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario, including extreme environments such as dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.
David Hensher is a Professor of Management at the University of Sydney Business School and a Founding Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.