I don't have a self-driving car or anything, but I like to follow what's happening as the technology evolves. Obviously, it's intriguing to think of a future where you sit in a car and do whatever you want to while the car takes you safely to your destination. I often wonder how long it will take to get to that kind of future, and how long it will take to transition from our current road system.
Things are definitely starting to move forward, if not to fully autonomous vehicles, at least on the path to much "smarter" cars. The long-anticipated Tesla Model 3 is finally in full production and its first customers are taking delivery. The Model 3 is the first electric vehicle to combine style and affordability—they start at $35,000—but they seem to offer much more than just an eco-friendly ride.
Autopilot—the same tech we've heard about inside the pricier Model S and Model X—will let the Model 3 cruise down the highway with no hands on the wheel and, soon, even drive itself completely from A to B. That is exciting for the future of cars but there is also a lot of uncertainty. A small fraction of the cars on the road have these self-driving capabilities so there is as much risk from other drivers as anything else. That said, America's youth will grow up with more automated features and less hands-on experience than I did. For example, how many teenagers do you see today driving a manual transmission? One of my daughters does, but most of her friends don't even know how.
I believe there will be growing pains regarding the future of self-driving and driving-assisted cars, but it's coming all the same. Here are some ways it could impact the safety and skills of tomorrow's drivers:
It's not crazy to think that a baby born today may not have to learn to drive a car in 16 years. In fact, why wait until you're 16 to drive when a car is fully automated? Of course, that's assuming there are no manually-driving cars on the road -- a mixture of autonomous and manual vehicles could be problematic during the transition.
We could see a future where young drivers look up certain rules or know-how on an app or driving how-to guide like it's Wikipedia. Even if they have a driver's license or complete a driver's ed course, the actual driving could be so far and few between that such a guide is always on-hand in the rare event of manually operating a vehicle. I could also imagine a car that would talk to the driver and guide them through procedures, such as getting on a ferry or dealing with unusual situations.
Rural vs Urban Driving
Cities will adopt self-driving cars just fine, but what about the old pickup truck and the dirt roads? We may see a culture/class separation between the automatic and manual cars during this transition period, with younger people sitting back in urban areas and older people driving out in the country. How will the law handle that? Most likely, rural drivers will have a special license to drive outside the city limits, but the urban roads could go self-driving-only sooner than we think.
I can imagine that the future may bring us certain models of cars that are intended for offroad and special uses. I can't see an all-electric car with limited range being the best choice for rural or "off the grid" use, so we may see hybrid vehicles or alternative fuel sources, such as fusion reactors at some point in the future.
Self-driving cars are designed to reduce accidents and make driving safer, so what does that mean for the people who still choose to drive even when self-driving cars are readily available? A world of self-driving cars will surely disrupt the insurance industry, but what will those premiums look like for those who want their hands on the wheel? Likely two things—they'll pay more, but they'll also be overall better drivers since only enthusiasts will want the extra cost for the added freedom. I imagine that manual driving will be prohibited on high-volume roads like the US's interstate highways.
Let's step back into the present—many cars on the road may not be self-driving but they do have assisted driving features. This includes lane assist, smart cruise control, early brake detection, and more. They're supposed to keep us safe, but do they make us safer drivers? Some argue they make us lazy behind the wheel while others say it reduces collisions, so what does it matter? One thing that's certain, however, is that this technology isn't going anywhere and it's up to us as drivers to stay alert until true self-driving is here.
What do you think? Future or fantasy?