/ Motoring, Technology

Driverless car convoys – could you give up control of your car?

Volvo sped on with the testing of a driverless, five-vehicle convoy on a Spanish motorway last week. But how many of us would be prepared to hand over control of our cars while we sit back and relax?

As part of its Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, Volvo sent a truck and four of its cars onto the motorway without drivers. The vehicles knew where to go using a combination of cameras, radar and lasers to follow a ‘lead’ truck, which was driven by a professional driver for 124 miles.

Volvo claims this new technology will soon let us to link our cars into convoys, leaving us to get on with reading the newspaper or working on a laptop while we’re driven to our destination.

And Volvo isn’t alone. In May, Google obtained a licence to test a driverless Toyota Prius on the desert roads of Nevada.

Dangers of driverless driving

This all sounds great in theory. After all, many people waste two to three hours a day stuck in traffic jams and would probably welcome the chance to get that time back.

But I worry about the safety of such a system, as it only takes one vehicle messing up to result in a massive pile-up, rather than the intended cut in accidents.

I’d also find it hard to give up the control of my car and simply ignore anything that’s going on around me. The temptation to grab the wheel and jump to a faster-moving driverless convoy could be too much to resist.

To prevent this, I think manufacturers would need to fit cars with fold-away controls, and perhaps even provide curtains to block the view of the road so that people can totally switch off. If not, there’s always the chance that a driver could accidentally knock the controls and cause an accident.

My car is my castle

I have vivid memories of an old AA report revealing that a large proportion of road-rage incidents are caused because people see their cars as their own little castles. So how will we be convinced to relinquish the control we have over our own vehicles?

OK, so if I get stuck in a major jam caused by an accident, then I might be happy to let another vehicle take the lead. But most of the time, I enjoy driving; that’s one of the reasons I work with cars! Giving up the control would take away something I enjoy as well as my important relaxation and reflection time.

So I won’t be joining any driverless convoys any time soon. But what do you think about driverless cars? Would you relish the extra time to get things done, or would you hate to give up control?

Would you like to travel around in a driverless vehicle convoy?

Maybe - when the technology is proven (32%, 75 Votes)

Yes - I'd like to relax! (24%, 56 Votes)

No - I like to be in control (19%, 43 Votes)

No - I enjoy driving (16%, 36 Votes)

No - I'm concerned about safety (9%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 236

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Comments
Guest
par ailleurs says:
8 June 2012

All very well but it would have to have a fantastically powerful system to warn of imminent failure or malfunction to let the driver take over, assuming he’s not nodded off.
Also if navigating by satnav type technology, how long before the vehicle ends up in a river or down an unmade country track?
All in all it makes me nervous and I’m a dedicated technology fan!

Guest

I’m definitely for driverless cars Claire. Like you, I also like driving, but I hate most of the driving I have to do. Driving a car down a quiet undulating B-road is great fun, but driving for hours on end on a motorway or slow moving commuter traffic is just a chore. It really would be great if that time could be freed up to focus on other things.
You wonder whether the systems would be safe enough, but I wonder whether DRIVERS are safe enough. These systems will be so stringently tested before they are allowed on the road that I’m willing to bet that they will have very few errors compared to the thousands of accidents that occur on our roads every day thanks to drivers that have absolutely no checks other than a half hour assessment when they are 17!
All of the major problems on motorway travel are caused by user error, whether that be failing to pay attention (boredom, phones, kids), or driving beyond the safe limits (tailgaiting, excessive speed in bad conditions). If we could take that user error out of the equation potentially we could cut accidents by a massive amount and eliminate traffic jams, which are nearly always caused by the concertina effect of people driving too close to the car in front.
And, to be fair, we are nearly at the point of driverless cars anyway. If you buy the latest models you get cruise control, collision avoidance, lane assist, blind spot monitoring and stanav to name but a few things. The only thing a modern car driver is left doing is holding the steering wheel. It is only a very small step to let go of that as well.
Driverless cars are something that I have been waiting for for a very long time. Having a car at your destination is often such an essential thing that it rules out train travel for a lot of long journeys, but if we could use this technology to make motorway journeys as efficient as travelling by train, but with the freedom when you get there, it really would be the best of both worlds.
My only stipulation? I have to be able to still drive those B-roads when I get to my destination so no iRobot style cars for me, thankyou very much.

Guest

Many car manufacturers have problems with designing fault warning light systems that are reliable.

Car electronic should be reliable, but until this has been achieved I am very wary of plans for driverless cars.

Guest

A few moments ago I had a Meniere’s attack. The condition produces uncontrollable bouts of giddiness without warning. As a result I do not drive.

My experience makes me believe that there are dangers in allowing anything as imperfect as a human being to have control of a car. One day machine driven vehicles will be the norm and we shall wonder how we ever allowed anything else to be the case

This conversation talks of convenience and cmfort but there are other important considerations such as safety, traffic management and the environment.

With automatic vehicles, for instance, we could eventually do away with traffic lights and allow precedence at junctions to reflect the amount of traffic. Such measures could make better use of road space and decrease the proportion of land needed for highways.

Transport automation is a no-brainer.

Guest

At one time it was a requirement for someone to walk in front of motor vehicles, carrying a red flag. Since then, cars etc have evolved to become the high performance vehicles we have today, and thanks to our obsession with the car and fast travel, we tolerate the deaths and injuries on our roads. Many even want speed limits raised.

Add to this the use of phones in cars and other distractions such as children and argumentative passengers, and it is surprising that we do not have more accidents. Machines can be programmed to deal with problems but human brains are much more versatile and may be able to deal more effectively with emergencies.

We have done a lot to make cars safer, but there is some work to be done before I would be happy for them to take full control of vehicles.

Guest

Never.

Referring to Angus’s quotes, we are nowhere near driverless cars, brainless drivers yes, but driverless cars no. These are just driver aides that help you to think “what else could I be doing?”

The answer is not twitter, internet and doing your make-up, the answer is driving!

The less time we spend not concentrating on the road, the more accidents we are going to have. Yes perhaps sitting in a driving train might sounds tempting, but what happens when the lorry you’re following wants to overtake? Can he overtake? or is he to just slow down to whatever speed the slowest vehicle is doing?

This would cause way more congestion as everyone will have to slow down to grandpa’s caravan towing speed, effectively making the motorway one huge contraflow.

Also the cost of rolling this out is astronomical and forcing people to spend money/take out a loan to buy another car that they don’t really need is abhorrent.

For me, all the new technology for cars is just designed to make you keep spending your money with them. With new features eventually becoming law or old cars being penalised (like CO2 now), it is just a cynical way to keep us buying more cars.

For a road train to work, it has to be an entirely new road, entirely separate from cars that don’t have the technology.

Guest
David says:
17 June 2012

But this scheme is no different to sitting in your car while it’s on the back of a low-loader driven by a human. It isn’t ‘driverless’ at all and shows no signs of becoming so within the next few decades.

Guest

The Volvo demonstration should be regarded as a publicity/sales stunt or gimmick and of no practicable value.
Those people who are unable to drive themselves or are just bone idle can make a ‘driverless’ journey by using a taxi, bus and train or coach to make their journeys.