More mobility for all
Turning 17 is a big moment for many teenagers. That’s the day you can start learning to drive a car and, as soon as you’ve passed your test, head out onto the open road!
You’ll be free. Free from having to stay put. Free from public transport, taxis and pedal power. Free from your parents (and they’ll be free from having to be the “taxi of mum and dad”). Spending half a year or more learning how to drive and hopefully passing first time is a rite of passage. Getting your first car and hitting the highway is a defining moment in your life. The desire to learn to drive is all consuming, such is the power of freedom!
Or at least it was.
Young people aren’t rushing to register for a licence or buying cars like they used to. Department for Transport figures show that the proportion of 17 to 20-year-olds with driving licences peaked at 48% in 1993. It then fell steadily to 31% by 2011, and for 21 to 29-year-olds the proportion fell from 75% to 63% over the same period.
Do those figures mean young people can’t afford the lessons, the cars, the insurance, or is something else at play? Recent research suggests the rise of the internet and relatively low cost of consumer electronics – think smartphones and games consoles – might be pulling teenagers away from wanting a car.
Now that driverless cars are clearly on the horizon, the declining trend might not reverse. Especially when the goal of the head of Google’s driverless car project, Chris Urmson, is to make sure his 11-year-old son doesn’t need to get a driving licence.
And let’s not forget about apps like Uber. Why should young people put in the effort of learning to drive or buying, insuring and maintaining a car when they can call one up on their smartphone? It seems like an expensive habit in comparison to owning a mobile.
The road less travelled?
Many people don’t ever get the opportunity to drive. People without the money, people who live in less well developed countries, people with a disability or who are of an age where they’re not permitted to drive. All these people are denied the freedoms that driving brings. Even for those of us with the opportunity to drive, the right to drive will eventually be taken away when we can’t read the licence plate ahead.
More mobility for everyone, for longer
Reducing the number of accidents aside, driverless cars have many other potential benefits. One is that they might actually bring more independence to more people for longer.
People with disabilities could have the same type of access as everyone else. They’ll be able to call up a driverless taxi to take them to work, visit friends and family or take a day trip to the beach. As long as the car is able to accommodate their needs, and they’re confident of getting into and out of the car, they’ll enjoy the same freedoms as people without a disability.
Young children and teenagers, with or without a licence, might be able to call up a cab and take themselves to school, a sporting event, concert or their weekend job. If the cars are connected to the internet and monitoring systems are in place, parents would be able to keep an eye on them. Freedom wouldn’t be lost. It would be gained.
Long life and long live taxi drivers!
If people of any age or ability do need assistance using a driverless car, this is potentially one reason why taxi drivers won’t completely disappear from the workforce. Some people will need or may want a human driver to accompany them.
Age catches up with us all in the end but why should we have our freedom curtailed? If we can order a driverless taxi, great! We can maintain our independence for longer. Self driving cars might save us the anxiety and disappointment of having to return to a state of dependence or isolation.
The road trip rolls on
One of the joys of driving is the road trip. It’s something anyone without the funds, permission or ability might never have experienced. Not so with a driverless car. Call it up, get in, off you go. You could be 16 or seventy. It won’t matter. Tell the car where you want to go, sit back and take in the scenery.
You might be able to record the entire journey too. If the car is WiFi enabled, you could broadcast the trip to others; the more memories, the merrier. If you think people aren’t interested in watching other people take long journeys through scenic countryside, think again. Millions of people watched a 7-hour train trip in Norway!
It’s horses for courses
If you enjoy the act of driving then no, a driverless road trip isn’t likely to float your boat. But if you value the journey with your friends more, then not having to do the driving might lead to a better experience. If it’s the destination you value most, then does it really matter who – or what – does the driving?