Comment: Hype misleads drivers in a hurry to go driverless


Most technology predictions are harmless because they don’t affect they way we live but, with driverless cars it’s different.

Because of all the publicity, it seems that some people have come to believe that driverless cars are safe.

Californians post videos of themselves sitting in the back-seats of cars while cruising highways; Tesla calls its ADAS system ‘Autopilot’, which suggests it can guide a car as safely as a plane’s autopilot, while media articles talk about autonomous cars as a reality.

The truth is that not even driverless taxis in confined spaces like town centres are yet licensed to operate fare-earning services.

As for putting driverless cars that can go anywhere on general sale – this is a 2040 aspiration, say the technologists who work in the field (although sometimes their CEOs don’t agree).

But that doesn’t make a story for the media. They want a strong story which grabs attention, even if it runs the risk of giving people an incorrect understanding.

Not truly driverless

One such person is, apparently, Bhavesh Patel of Nottingham, who turned on the Autopilot in his Tesla and moved over to the passenger seat for his journey down the M1. Last month, he was banned from driving for 18 months for this.

Patel had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, but said he thought he’d been unlucky to get caught. His belief that he was ‘unlucky’ to be caught suggests that he thinks his behaviour was normal, rational and common.

Which leads to the unnerving inference that there are, in fact, loads of people driving around our motorways who assume that driverless cars work perfectly well.

If that is so, shouldn’t there be a statement from the authorities to point out that they don’t?


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