On the face of it, there’s something quite appealing about driverless cars. It will be like having a chauffeur-driven chariot at your beck and call, except it will be no more expensive than owning a car. Indeed, it might well be-cheaper because you’ll be less likely to have an accident, so insurance premiums will be lower, and it will use fuel more efficiently. Not only that, but we’re told journey times will be shorter because driverless cars don’t need to keep more than a few inches apart, thereby reducing congestion. And they’ll be quicker still if the inner-cities are reserved for driverless cars only. No need for traffic lights, roundabouts or three-way junctions — just a seamless flow of traffic.
Needless to say, I’m not convinced. Will it really be cheaper to own one than a regular car? I accept that insurance premiums might fall, but what about the depreciation costs? With all that state-of-the art technology, it will be a bit like driving around in a giant iPhone and, as we know, there isn’t much of a market for second-hand iPhones. Indeed, out-of-date driverless cars might well be banned from the roads since the risks associated with them being unable to communicate properly with more recent models are potentially catastrophic.
Even if manufacturers can solve that problem, driverless cars will still age more quickly than regular ones given the pace of technological change — and hence depreciate faster.
What about the shorter journey times? I’m sceptical about that, too. If driverless cars really are all they’re cracked up to be, we’ll see a shift away from public transport towards more car and lorry journeys. Elderly people won’t stop using cars when their eyes and other-senses deteriorate, freight will shift from railways to automated lorries and workers will be more likely to use cars for the daily commute if they can recline in the back seats with their laptops.