Is this the driverless future?


Leading Australian ethicist Professor Robert Sparrow told the recent Australasian Fleet Conference in Melbourne that in a driverless autonomous future, cars should not be fitted with steering wheels.

He went further to say that when driverless cars are proven to save human lives by eliminating or reducing accident rates, it should be illegal for humans to drive.

Professor Sparrow, who works in Monash University’s philosophy program and in the Centre for Human Bioethics, outlined a future where people would not need to own or drive vehicles but would instead use public transport and mobility services provided by autonomous vehicles.

He admitted this suggested a bleak future for car-makers and, by extension, car dealers as far fewer vehicles would be required to meet society’s transport needs.

“When you talk to people who are gung-ho about driverless vehicles, they insist they will be safer than human drivers,” Professor Sparrow said. “I am inclined to say that, when they do start saving human lives, we should embrace them. Indeed, we should embrace them way more than people think. It should be illegal to drive in the future.”

He said that if the driverless cars of the future came with optional steering wheels, the standard of safety would decline if the driver actually took the wheel. “The full autopilot is better than you are. So, when you get into your vehicle, you place my life at risk,” Prof Sparrow said. “When you put your hands on the steering wheel, you are equivalent to a drunk robot, and you are elevating the risk to me. So I am going to legislate that your car shouldn’t have a steering wheel.”

Prof Sparrow said that even if cars were made with both autopilot and a manual mode, it should be mandatory to use the autopilot. “Steering wheels are dangerous for all sorts of reasons, but they are dangerous because allowing people to drive in the future – when the machines are better at it – elevates the risk to everyone else,” he said, adding that the proposition should be clear for fleet managers. “If you are a fleet manager, you should take the steering wheels out because your cars will collide less. Your fleet will be cheaper to run if you don’t let people drive them and if the machines do what’s promised.”

And that, gentle reader, is just nonsense. But the danger is, some groups of people will welcome this totalitarian rubbish. I think I’d better teach my 10 year old son to drive now, before Sparrow confiscates the steering wheel.