As a non-driver, the potential to drive around without actually driving or even being able to is what’s got me most excited about autonomous cars. That would be lovely. I’ve already been in touch with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, asking the organisation how rights and the driving test may change, as self-driving cars become more prevalent. No answer. Follow-up. Can’t help you mate. Fortunately, Ford had a little more to say on the matter.
“As soon as autonomous cars arrive, the discussion of whether or not you need a driving licence will come up,” said Jorg Ullrich, Ford’s advanced consumer experience marketing guy. “Just think about the population that gets older. Think about the great benefit on the older age group. Should there be a driving licence test for people over a certain age? Think about the opportunities that could open up for those who want to be mobile and want to get around, but are physically unable to do so any more.”
I nod my head. My face says, “Yeah, the old people,” though my thoughts are definitely closer to home. In steps Will Farrelly, the head of user experience innovation at Ford of Europe’s smart mobility division, who appears to have read my mind.
“Our research shows that, for many young people, the driving test is becoming so complicated and challenging, both from a cost and difficulty point of view, that it's becoming a barrier to engaging with vehicles. [Getting rid of the driving test] could help facilitate mobility in many ways.”
Earlier this year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told Google that autonomous cars without traditional controls, such as pedals and steering wheels, should be classified as ‘legal drivers’. It’s the news the company’s been holding out for ever since it started working on self-driving vehicles, and could have a major impact on the future of the car.
I ask the guys if they see any potential problems with the NHTSA’s stance. “Actually not,” said Farrelly. “I think that set up the opportunity for us to explore the technology and develop the solutions that work for both consumers and businesses. It's an enabler. We work very closely with legislators, but progressive legislation is a huge innovation. We encourage that.”
Ullrich is certain that future cars won’t feature traditional controls, though he thinks we’re still between 10 and 20 years off that stage right now. To anyone non-drivers/soon-to-be-non-drivers-due-to-physical-decline, the dream isn’t far off.