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A glimpse into a brave new motoring world

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: November 06, 2013

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RECENTLY I was driving a car with adaptive cruise control. It's nothing new but it's a great technology that uses, I presume, witchcraft to monitor the car in front and will brake and accelerate to maintain a safe distance from it.

I quite like this feature. I like not having to constantly adjust the cruise control speed when you're following someone who can't make up their mind how fast they want to go and I like the luxury of not having to touch the pedals on long motorway runs or even on dull stretches of single carriageway.

Trouble is, the last time I used it I had the in-laws in the car with me. "Look, I'm not touching the pedals and the car is driving itself," I enthusiastically pointed out. That was a mistake.

They're always a bit sceptical of technology, even at the best of times, but this nod towards a future of driver-less cars freaked them out a bit. I'd dismiss it as a generational intolerance of new-fangled gadgets but my wife, their daughter, tells me she finds it 'creepy' and refuses to switch it on.

As hard as I try, I can't fathom why on earth it's in any way creepy. I think she's looking at it from a 'Rise of the Robots' perspective but I welcome this technology with open arms as it is, indeed, a sign that driver-less cars are on the way.

Some of my colleagues and friends are dreading the arrival of driver-less cars. "But I love driving," they insist. I love driving too. Give me a sporty car on an open B Road in the Peak District and I'll be happy all day long.

The thing is, life isn't like that. It's such a rare occasion in this congested world of rocketing fuel prices that we get to genuinely enjoy driving and most of the time we're covering the same daily commute - or taking on the familiar motorway jaunt to visit the parents.

Driving, I'm sorry to say, can get very boring. This is one reason why driver-less cars have a place waiting for them in society.

The other reason, and this is far more important, is that humans behind the wheel are complete idiots.

Read the news every day - we're constantly crashing into each other. Human error is, invariably, behind this carnage and the outcome is often tragic.

Take the risk of human error off the roads and we're likely to see a sharp fall in the number of deaths and serious injuries. How can that be a bad thing?

The in-laws make the point that, in 10 or even 20 years time, someone could be following me or my wife with adaptive cruise control switched on and by that time the computers that run it might be getting a bit tired. It's a fair comment, but weren't we saying this about airbags and anti-lock brakes 10 or 20 years ago?

Cars and computers are built to last now and while it's not surprising to see electric windows or automatic gearboxes failing as cars become worn and tired, it's usually always the mechanicals at fault. The computers and the software are usually running fine.

The technology that will eventually allow us to put our feet up and read a book on the M25 has been around for a good while and now that it's trickling down into the mainstream car industry it's evident that we're not far away from a driver-less world.

Volvo, for example, makes one of the best adaptive cruise control systems on the market and it is Volvo who have been channeling more efforts than most into taking the need for a driver out of the equation.

In their V40 for example, the systems are in place already and are being used as back-up plans should the driver make a cock-up.

Drive a V40 fitted with CitySafe at a brick wall and the car will not let you crash. It'll slam its anchors on. Trust me, I've tried it.

Along with the usual adaptive cruise control it also has a feature that will gently steer you back into your lane should you start to wander off.

So let's weigh that up for a moment. It goes, stops and steers for you. That is exactly what a driver-less car will be doing when they enter the market.

So, you see, as much as my in-laws hate the idea driver-less cars are the future and they will arrive. The technology is here already and all we need now is permission to let them loose.

Many commentators believe it will take between five and 10 years to pass the complex legislation required to unleash these machines on our roads.

I can't wait.

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