Jim Duffy: The impending consequences of driverless cars

I recall taking my driving test many moons ago. I was 17 and it was in Anniesland in Glasgow. I was in my dad's metallic gold Fiat Panda and the driving examiner was grumpy. It was raining and I was 'in the zone', having prepared properly.

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Driverless cars will be on a road near you faster than you think, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian HowarthDriverless cars will be on a road near you faster than you think, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth
Driverless cars will be on a road near you faster than you think, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth

It was time for my emergency stop. The examiner stated, as I knew he would, that he would tap his hand on the dashboard and I was to bring the car to a stop.

Off we went, and then he hit the dashboard and I hit the brakes. The car started sliding and I corrected this by turning the steering wheel to keep it centred on the road. All fine.

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We parked up outside the testing station and he asked me why I didn’t cadence brake during the emergency stop. Now in these days there was no ABS fitted to cars – especially Fiat Pandas. I had no answer to his question . Cadence braking takes years of practice, my dad told me after the test. Anyway, like many people, I passed first time and that was me on the road. But, that was then… before driverless cars.

This driverless cars malarkey has been creeping up on us for a decade now. To be fair, I haven’t given it much thought as I didn’t expect to ever sit in one or indeed buy one and use it.

But it is coming to a road near you faster than you think. And here is the bit that I find astonishing and that had not truly crossed my mind.

While I, and millions like me, had to prep for and sit a driving test, kids being born today may indeed never have to sit one! Imagine that… At one swoop, the driving instructor industry will come to a grinding halt.

A bit like the motorcycle courier industry did when email arrived on the scene. No more asking Mum and Dad to take you out driving in the evening or at the weekends. No more having to clean the car in payment for such services. And no more grumpy driving examiners. So, what does all this mean for us?

Well, firstly your insurance premiums should plummet. Why? Well, because there will be a dramatic reduction in accidents due to driver error. No speeding. No overtaking on blind bends. No undertaking at roundabouts. No red-lighting to get to work that millisecond quicker.

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No, driverless cars will have their own rulebook written into their DNA. And while you may be thinking it will be chaos out there and a bit like the Wild West, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s all down to a wonderful thought process called Black Box Thinking.

The same technology that drives or indeed flies an aeroplane will be embedded in the driverless car and the network that controls them.

Essentially, Black Box Thinking is a process that designs out error, while ensuring strict adherence to checklists. As you read this today, flights will be arriving and departing from Edinburgh Airport. Prior to take-off and prior to landing also, pilots will pump in some data to the on-board computers. These will then calculate the flight plan and take the aeroplane safely from A to B. Checklists are also in place to make sure that everything is working as it should be. And this is exactly how driverless cars will operate.

But even more so, computers will talk to other computers and there will be no real human intervention, albeit turning up the radio may be a chore for some.

So what are the ramifications for us all then? Is this a positive thing? I’m going to argue for yes. There is so much stress involved in driving these days. I’m guilty of it myself as I let some vain profanity slip from my tongue as the driver in front, who has held me back, gets through the red light and I do not. Road rage is everywhere these days and that is one thing driverless cars will prevent.

Technology is moving fast and while for some it may be too fast, this writer is very much up for the computer doing all the work at the wheel.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark

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