Quora Question: Are Autonomous Cars Going to Kill the Joy of Driving?

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A Google self-driving car is seen inside a lobby at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California November 13. Stephen Lam/Reuters

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Answer from Jason Lancaster, editor of AccurateAutoAdvice.com:

Maybe.

On one hand, I expect that automakers will offer autonomous cars that have a "dumb mode," something drivers can select when they don't want the computer to steer or operate the pedal. This will help restore the original driving experience that a lot of us are currently familiar with.

On the other hand:

  1. Even in "dumb" mode, the sensors will still be sensing and the computer will still be monitoring. I can't imagine that a driver will be able to put themselves in a situation where they're likely to crash, even in "dumb" mode. There will always be a robot looking over a shoulder, even when we turn the robot off.

  2. I could see a lot of municipalities prohibiting the use of "dumb" mode, either on specific routes or during specific times of day. Perhaps there will be a special lane for piloted cars, where humans will have to drive, while the robots get the bulk of the highway (and I'm looking fairly far into the future here...40 years?). These sorts of restrictions would take some of the fun out of the old fashioned driving mode.

  3. A lot of soulless, boring people don't care about the joy of driving (half-kidding here), and they're probably going to try to restrict the ability of people to pilot at some point. All it will take is a few high profile incidents of human-piloted vehicles crashing into autonomous cars for many to demand that "dumb" mode be outlawed.

Still, when you balance it all out, whatever joy we lose from piloting our own cars will be more than made up for by increased automotive safety, decreased commute times and lower operating costs. In a future where 90% of vehicles are autonomous, it's likely that pedestrians will never get hit by cars, for example. It's also likely that cars will never run into one another, saving nearly 40,000 lives per year and preventing hundreds of thousands of injuries. If I could trade the joy of driving for lower insurance premiums, safer driving and a vast reduction in the number of injuries and deaths, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Finally, there's always the race track. There's every likelihood that we'll be able to race without the aid of computers for as long as we like. We'll just find ourselves an "old" 2015 vehicle without all the fancy autonomous "stuff" on it, mount some racing slicks, and get to work.

. . .

Answer from Balaji Viswanathan, Product Manager at Blackduck Software:

If anything, the joy of driving will probably increase due to a variety of reasons.

  1. It will take the poor drivers off the wheel. These drivers should not be driving in the first place and reluctantly take the wheel because they don't have an option. Autonomous driving programs are way smarter than these drivers and will enhance the driving experience of others.

  2. It can reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Combined with a Zipcar-like concept, some might be able to call a vehicle on demand, instead of having to own and operate the vehicles. Fewer vehicles, more pleasure.

  3. It will take regular driving chores off. I love driving, but not really my commute. There are plenty of drives I really hate. I could let the autonomous module take care of commute and other chores, while I could switch it off for pleasure drives. In this, I don't see it any different from cruise control.

  4. It will manage parking better—I can let the vehicle wait 2 miles away from the downtown until I finish my meeting. That will reduce one of my biggest pain points with driving.

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