I’m hearing a lot about autonomous driving at the moment. We already have cars which will brake if we don’t, keep us a safe distance from the car in front, and warn us about inadvertently changing lanes. Some can even parallel park into a space if those skills fail us.
But it seems there is a mood to remove even more control from the human behind the wheel. For those who hate driving, a driverless vehicle can’t come soon enough. My life would certainly be easier if some of my fleet drivers had no control over the actual driving.
My crystal ball tells me that eventually of course the way forward will see us all sitting in hydrogen-propelled pods, with no human input other than to set a route in the sat nav at the beginning of the journey. People will be able to text, put on their make-up and eat and drink without a care in the world. And probably watch TV or work on their tablets without any fear of accident.
Accidents and parking damage will become a thing of the past. Think about the cost implications of that on the NHS and, indeed, the accident management industry. Insurance premiums would reduce. Will we even need a driving licence to travel? We can make some more cutbacks at DVLA then.
Perhaps very few pods will be owned outright. Owned by the equivalent of a car club, we will just hire as required. There would be different sized pods for single occupancy journeys, families, and a van pod for trips to B&Q. There will be r-pods for caravanners (I kid you not, they exist already) and for music lovers… you’re there before me. But will we still have many manufacturers vying for market share or will there be just one vanilla pod?
So how would that affect fleets? Well if ownership became rare because people could easily rent what they required for that specific journey, then perhaps perk fleets would disappear. Or we would move to a situation where an allowance was paid to enable the employee to finance a business journey by the most cost and time-efficient route. But then we return to the conundrum that the company risks losing control over its duty of care responsibilities.
Now clearly our autonomous pods will have to progress in a neat line at a constant speed to avoid bumping into each other, but that won’t worry most occupants because the average British driver plods along quite happily at 35-40mph – even in a 30mph limit – until they reach a motorway, where they slam their foot down and hit 80mph eyes glued to the tail of the car in front with no worries at all.
I haven’t yet worked out how you get into the flow of traffic from your driveway. We Brits love queuing but constantly having to join at the back is not an option for me. But it will mean there is no opportunity to speed, so revenue from fines will decrease massively. If you are running late, then you are just going to miss that meeting, so punctuality will improve. And on motorways we will either have to put up with all lanes running at the same speed or they will indeed be renamed fast, medium and slow, which again is how the average British driver already thinks it works.
But surely that kind of journey is just a train by a different name, running on a more widely available network than the real trains. In fact more like we had in the 1960s, before all those branch lines serving rural communities were killed off. So don’t be surprised to hear that the new roads regulators are from the same outfit as the existing rail regulators, and that the organisation which monitors rail passengers’ views will be doing the same for the roads.
I wonder what Dr Beeching would make of all that.