Opinion: it is difficult to see future generations having any desire to drive or get driving licenses once self-driving cars become mainstream

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It’s been a long time coming. For years, we have been hearing about the oncoming advent of self-driving cars and the transport revolution that will supposedly be just like moving from the horse and carriage to the motorised vehicle. It seems like the time is already here with Waymo (previously known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project) placing an order with Chrysler for "thousands" of minivans for its autonomous fleet. We are diving headfirst into a brave new world of complete convenience.

So what does this mean for the future of the boring old manually driven car? Will it become an artefact of a not-so-distant past just like the horse and carriage today? Will it become just a weekend treat where you go to a track to do laps around a controlled course just to experience what life was like in old years past?

It is difficult to see future generations having any desire to drive, or even secure their driving licenses, once self-driving cars become mainstream and we are chauffeured around by intelligent machines. The "drivers" of tomorrow will not feel the need to drive themselves, it will be too costly and be irrelevant to them.

The way it used to be. Photo: Dave G. Houser/Corbis via Getty Images

Many adults have forgotten what driving meant to them when they were teenagers and have problems understanding why the number of young people obtaining their driving licenses in recent years has dramatically fallen. Before the internet, driving meant communication and escapism. It was the best (sometimes only) way for youth to escape parental clutches and spend time with their friends. This is what ALL teenagers wanted. It meant meeting girls or boys, it meant endless opportunities and freedom, it meant courting and the possibility of finding love at an age when hormones are running rampant. Nobody finds love trapped at home with their families.

Today’s world offers all these things to teenagers without the need for an expensive, commonly unreliable vehicle. In the past, teenagers would work a job just to afford owning a car to open all these doors to them. But the teenagers of today do not feel the need to achieve vehicular freedom in the same way their parents did as they can talk to their friends and flirt with potential partners all from the palm of their hand in the comforts of their own home.

They don’t need to meet at the shopping centre to flirt. They don’t have to travel to youth clubs to meet new friends. They have the entire world, and their entire social lives, in a phone. It may be argued that there is no replacement for actual face-to-face interactions, but the limits of that argument will be tested in the coming years as it becomes easier and easier to tune out of the physical world.

The Jackson 5 and Diana Ross posing in a Convertible. Photo: Getty Images

Combine all this with the fact that vehicles are much more expensive to buy and maintain than they were decades ago, even accounting for inflation, and it starts becoming easier to envisage a future free of young people with no driving skills, qualifications or desire to drive. Owning a vehicle is a huge time commitment that many people would argue that you need, but that is rapidly changing with improved public transport, improvement in communication technology and the introduction of self-driving cars.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that self-driving cars are being developed by every car manufacturer, with the electronic technologies required being improved and finetuned every day. We are not 20 years away from teenagers not being interested in owning a car; we are more like five years away, and it may come even sooner than that. The technology already exists and it can already be seen on the streets of major American cities (including the first death as a result of self-driving cars).

The future of teen driving. Photo: iStock

It is just a case now of the technology being upgraded into the realm of near-perfection and complete safety and, more importantly, society adjusting to these new changes. When we look back to the change from horse and carriages to motor car in the 20th century, we wonder how there could have been any resistance to this obviously superior mode of transport. Perhaps future generations will look back with similar thoughts at this newest impending change to our travel habits.

The youth are always the first to adopt new technologies and it is very likely that my future children will never have an interest in owning a car. Why would they? We are swiftly entering the age of a far easier, sleeker transport experience, and the young people will gravitate towards the option with the obvious benefits and superiority. Who needs a driving license when you can order your car to be waiting outside to whisk you away to your destination while you stare at your screens and wonder how people ever lived any other way? The wheels of progress continue their unstoppable movement forward, only now we are handing control over to computers.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ