Ray Massey advises against holding your breath for driverless cars.

The Elusive Reality of Self-Driving Cars

The anticipation for self-driving cars is perennial, but predictions of their imminent arrival often fall short.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s recent announcement about their anticipated presence on roads by 2026 echoes similar fervor from the past.

However, past experiences with hyped-up projections have left many skeptical, despite ongoing technological demonstrations.

While various degrees of autonomous technology have been showcased, the seamless, fully self-driving experience remains elusive.

Current advancements primarily manifest as ‘driver assistance’ systems in new vehicles, incorporating elements like automated braking, cruise control, and lane assist.

The prospect of widespread self-driving remains tethered to dedicated lanes, stringent controls, and incremental integration rather than a wholesale adoption.

Hurdles and Realities

Significant investment from both governments and automotive companies underscores the dedication to researching and testing self-driving technology.

However, obstacles including safety concerns, legislative complexities, insurance issues, and technical challenges persist.

Tesla’s Autopilot system’s involvement in numerous crashes and fatalities, for instance, has raised pertinent safety questions and intensified scrutiny.

Legal frameworks have started cracking down on misleading claims about ‘self-driving’ capabilities, reflecting the need for a realistic appraisal of current technological levels.

The delineation of six autonomous driving levels, from partial control to full autonomy, highlights the gradual evolution needed to achieve true self-driving capabilities.

Back to the Future: Sales and Expectations

In parallel, the automotive industry’s trajectory is marked by forecasts of increased sales for both new and used cars in the coming year.

Auto Trader predicts a five-year high in new car sales for 2024, driven by buyer incentives, although it still falls short of pre-pandemic levels.

The push for zero-emission vehicles, mandating a considerable percentage of new car sales, adds pressure for discounts in the market.

Preparing for the New Year’s Drive

As the new year approaches, the RAC warns of an anticipated surge in breakdowns, predominantly attributed to flat batteries.

Recommendations to avoid this include proactive measures such as regular drives to charge batteries, ensuring all systems are off when parked, and testing batteries, especially if they are older than four years.

Amidst the buzz and forecasts, the reality of self-driving cars navigating our roads seamlessly remains a distant goal, overshadowed by challenges and incremental advancements.


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