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Autonomous cars may remove potential human errors, but if you are a car lover, nothing beats driving it yourself.
Cameras, radars and sensors are key to the driverless car’s situational awareness
The above-average human might be faster, but he may not be the most careful or considerate driver.
      • October 16, 2016
      • Stay in the driving seat
      • Driverless cars are the future of motoring, but this keen driver doesn't want to be relegated to a passive co-driver

David Ting

THE first driverless vehicles I ever rode were all electric locomotives — the Changi Airport Skytrain, Bukit Panjang LRT and the MRT system’s North East Line.

These driverless vehicles didn’t make me feel like a lesser driver, as I was just an occasional commuter.

Then, there was the advent of cruise control and assisted parking in the motoring industry. Both features made me feel like a lazier driver, who could (and usually would) manage any highway cruising in the car with my right foot and park the car myself.

But after taking rides in autonomous cars made by Nissan, Lexus and Audi, and tracking the impressive progress of Tesla, Ford and Google in autonomous driving technology, I feel like a lesser driver whose driving licence is in danger. Not from suspension due to a sudden need for speed, but from underuse due to clever cars that can drive themselves from point to point and turn enthusiastic drivers into indifferent co-drivers.

The companies producing, testing and popularising these autonomous cars, — together with the relevant technology suppliers and open-minded government officials — will do their utmost to remove the driver from the driving equation.

Various traffic studies over the years have concluded that 90 to 99 per cent of road accidents are caused by human error. Put another way, if those human “crash test dummies” weren’t allowed to drive in the first place, the driving errors that led to the crashes would not have occurred and the roads would be much safer for other road users.

According to a survey conducted by Continental in the United Kingdom last year, three of the most frustrating habits of bad drivers are tailgating, not signalling and using a smartphone on the move.

Self-driving cars would never tailgate, would always signal, and do not fiddle with distracting mobile devices.

They are safety-conscious “drivers”, with excellent situational awareness thanks to an array of cameras, radars and sensors, the computers to accurately crunch the 360-degree data and the automated driving controls to react appropriately in every traffic situation.

The above-average human driver might be faster, but he will tend to take greater risks on the road and give other road users less space, respect or courtesy.

Self-driving cars can make commutes easier for people who are not qualified or interested to drive. They can make car-sharing and carpooling more convenient. And they can maximise the road network like never before.

Eventually, self-driving cars can also supplant cabbies, chauffeurs and deliverymen.

Or maybe not, if there is still a need for service with a smile (the car’s “grinning” grille does not count), a personal touch (beyond the brush of skin against cabin upholstery) and friendly conversation (you cannot chit-chat with a car).

As for those who like to drive, being behind the wheel is central to a delightful experience on the road. Revving the engine, shifting the gears, steering the vehicle, working the suspension, burning both fuel and rubber — these can only be enjoyed if you DIY (drive it yourself).

Letting the machine do the driving would be safer and simpler, but that is like replacing an F1 ace with an android. Robots racing against one another in fully robotised racecars would make a mockery of motorsports.

Imagine cheering on cyborgs in the Olympic Games that can perform faster, higher and stronger than the best human athletes.

I’m no driving demigod, but I love driving and carry more petrol in my veins than any self-driving gadget on wheels. So, I’d like to do all my motoring myself, as far as possible.

Unless I’m on board a driverless LRT or MRT train, of course.

David Ting is the editor of Torque, a monthly motoring magazine by SPH Magazines.