Driverless cars on South African roads? This is likely to become a reality at some point in the future, as it is everywhere else in the world. The question is when – and how ready are we for it?
Earlier this year, the previous Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, told parliament that government had plans for the introduction of driverless cars but that the legislative frameworks controlling road travel would need to be amended first. This doesn’t appear to be a priority for the current administration.
At the same time, the technology behind self-driving vehicles is by no means tried and tested. While many travellers – especially millennial ones – are very open to the idea, few of them have actually experienced driverless motoring and can say that they have absolute confidence in it. The occasional stories of accidents involving prototypical driverless vehicles reinforce the impression that the tech is still to be ironed out.
South Africa is a country with a notoriously high rate of road accidents – many of them fatal. The argument is that properly developed automated vehicles will eliminate the human error that causes this unacceptable number of road injuries and deaths. This may be true, though we don’t want to be too enthusiastic about the idea that AIs are sure to be better drivers than human beings – until we see the proven technology, that is.
From a South African point of view, the tech aspects are likely to be out of our hands, however – unless a brilliant IT entrepreneur rises from among us with the ultimate solution, which is possible. Most of us will have to watch the industry news and see what develops. In the meantime, the government will have to start preparing the legislative groundwork to allow self-driving cars on our roads, which is no easy task, since there is no precedent for it. Rules of the road have always been developed with human drivers in mind. Automated operation in such a delicate, vital and, at times, dangerous area as road usage, is likely to present a variety of unforeseen complications. Overcoming these will require concerted cooperation between lawmakers and industry experts.
Insurance companies will also have a lot of work on their hands revamping their policies to accommodate the new order.
There is also the question of how much demand there will be for driverless cars. In addition to there not yet being enough trust in the technology, South Africans are a famously car-mad lot who actually enjoy the experience of driving. Ever-worsening traffic in the major urban centres may dull this appetite, however. Having the option to switch between automatic drive in the afternoon rush hour, and taking the wheel on the open road, is likely to be desirable for many car owners.
Whatever happens, Highway Bakkie Hire will stay on top of the trends as we always have, and when the day comes for you to rent your first driverless sedan or bakkie, we will have what you need! In the meantime, contact us for all your car rental requirements.