How will people drive in a driverless future?

As autonomous vehicles become commonplace, the need for human drivers will start to disappear. But what about those of us who simply enjoy being behind the wheel?

It’s certainly not a problem that’ll affect everyone; after all, driving is just a way to get around for many people. We’ve already seen how improving a city’s mobility options draws residents away from car use, and when traveling from A to B can be as simple as requesting an autonomous chauffeur and choosing a route via a smartphone or wearable, there’ll be even less reason to own a car, let alone physically steer it.

But vehicles don’t just exist for commuting – there’s an entire culture around driving. And given the passion of car enthusiasts, there’s a good chance driving will continue, though perhaps in new forms.

Designated driver (zones)

While self-driving systems currently have their detractors, it may one day be human drivers who face opposition. Elon Musk drew attention in 2015 when he suggested that societies might “outlaw” human-driven cars due to the safety of autonomous vehicles, and while the comments were divisive, he’s no alone in his view.

The US Department of Transportation considers driverless technologies critical to its goal of a “Zero Death Future” – that is, a future in which there are no more road casualties. With 94 percent of the nation’s fatal crashes attributed to human error, it’s easy to understand why governments might discourage human driving.

But this doesn’t mean the future has no room for drivers. Much like how the introduction of automobiles made traveling by horse a leisure pursuit, driving could become a recreational activity. Cities or companies could set aside areas specifically for human driving, allowing consumers to cruise around designated tracks. In this scenario, those wanting to get involved would still need to acquire a driver’s licence, but getting it would become less of a right of passage and more about training to pursue the hobby.

A different kind of driving

It’s not just daily commutes that are on the cusp of change – autonomous vehicles are also set to make a splash in professional racing, providing new ways to get enjoyment from driving, even if no one’s steering. Roborace is an in-development motorsports series sanctioned by the FIA, pitting driverless cars against each other. Rather than having teams recruit the best drivers, they’ll compete to develop the best driving technologies and software.

Roborace’s trials and public showcases have so far seen the cars move at relatively slow paces to ensure safety and smooth testing. But even when the speeds start ramping up and the initiative becomes a major league, it won’t usurp other forms of racing – drivers like Lewis Hamilton draw huge numbers of viewers, after all.

Rather, Roborace will exist alongside the other classes of motorsports, with traditional race cars allowing the public to see drivers navigating their way around courses, and autonomous race cars giving the public a chance to enjoy the ingenuity that goes into perfecting driverless systems. And as long as there’s still room in motorsports for drivers, the industry is going to have to make literal room for those drivers to practice.

Once autonomous vehicles become the norm, the average person might no longer have any need to ever touch a steering wheel. But with the reasons for hopping into the driver’s seat extending further than just transport, it’s likely that human driving isn’t going anywhere.

Topics: Automotive, Autonomous Cars, Autonomous World, Editor's Picks

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