There has been some discussion recently in the Shropshire Star about the benefits and dangers of self-driving cars. I suggested that they could save lives by reducing the “human error” that causes most road accidents, but Chris Smith (letters, September 2), thinks they represent a serious danger and that computers should not be allowed to take over the function of the human brain. He quite rightly points out that there have been some well-documented accidents with self-driving cars, but I think he lacks a vision of the future.
If you think about how cars have developed over the years from the bone-shakers of the 1950s to the standard cars of today, you can see what progress has been made. Just think of the measures that have been introduced to improve safety, for example, from disc brakes and crumple zones to seat-belts and airbags. Going beyond that to the use of technology, almost every new car now has parking sensors and many offer a “self-parking” option. I find this amazing – that your car can identify a suitable parking place as you drive past and can then park itself perfectly in that space without you doing a thing!
Some cars have proximity sensors that will automatically apply the brakes if you get too close to the car in front, and luxury brands offer a “heads up” display on the windscreen so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to read your instruments. Combined with systems that respond to voice commands rather than using a touch screen, these add significantly to car safety.
Then, of course, there is satellite navigation, which has transformed the way we get from A to B without needing a map, as well as telling us how long it will take to get there and offering alternative routes. This kind of dynamic progress is certain to continue and ever-increasing sophistication in the car market will be the norm.
Self-driving cars are in their infancy, and have had some teething troubles, but they will become a significant reality in the future. Manufacturers and developers will learn from their early mistakes and will make the necessary changes to ensure that these cars are as safe as possible. Nothing is fool-proof of course, but human error will largely be eliminated because computers don’t get tired or distracted (or drunk), so the risk of accidents will be reduced. There will also be the “convenience factor”. You will be able to get into your car and simply say “take me home”, and let it do the driving. I think that is a very positive vision of the future.
Robert Monro, Whitchurch
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