And indeed, from a recent report, it seems that this will be the case, as it is stated that Being drunk or asleep at the wheel of a driverless cars to be made illegal, and goes on to say that the user in charge must also be in the driver’s seat and stay off their mobile phone. It then says, with a distinct whiff of curled lip:
Plans to forbid drunk back-up driving come amid concerns that the technology could encourage overindulgence. Researchers at Curtin University in Australia have suggested that the public safety benefits from driverless cars could be outweighed by more binge drinking if it becomes easier to get around while inebriated. In 2020, 37 per cent of respondents in a survey said that their alcohol use would be likely to increase if they had access to driverless cars.However, surely one of the main potential benefits of driverless cars is that they will extend mobility to people who are unable to drive themselves either through old age or medical conditions. It is also impossible to have driverless taxis – often suggested as one of the main applications – if there always needs to be a competent driver on board. If it was indeed true that driverless cars would need a capable driver on board at all times it would severely limit their usefulness, to the extent where it’s hard to see what the point would be.
I suspect this report arises from a misunderstanding of the concept of the technology. It has always been set out that progress towards automated cars will come in a number of levels, as shown in the graphic above. At Level 3, a driver may be called upon to take control in certain situations, but at Levels 4 and 5 they won’t. If an automated taxi can travel without a driver to its pick-up point, then surely it can carry a passenger who is incapable of driving, whether through age, infirmity or intoxication. And if a taxi can do it, why not your own driverless car?
It has always seemed to me, though, that this technology essentially represents a solution looking for a problem. And it’s pretty certain that the authorities will never allow it to be used to its full potential, as it would be so disruptive and undermine so many vested interests.