This week, for the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of (oxymoron up ahead) "driving" an autonomous vehicle. While driver assistance technology has been a thing for a while now (reverse parking and cruise control and such), the notion of ripping along a highway while lighting a cigarette and have a flick through Tinder (figuratively – don't actually do this), without needing to worry about the pedals or the wheel, was all at once terrifying and exciting. In short: an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
While the drive itself was fun (and to be frank, uneventful – I literally did nothing for kilometres), I couldn't help but think of one obvious advantage that this brave new technology poses. If we're not far off a vehicle that can take-off, steer, brake, change lanes and park without so much as a tap of the pedals – will we be able to get behind the wheel after a session on the schooeys and let the fucker drive us all the way home?
A quick search on the interwebs and it looks like I'm not the only one, and best of all, it's an Australian advisory body that has already suggested the same idea (because of course it is).
The National Transport Commission has released a discussion paper (read: good idea that will never become policy because politicians in this country are socially regressive and lack a spine) suggesting that driverless vehicles, while technically requiring an occupant in the front seat, are a safe alternative to drink-driving, and hence people under the influence of alcohol or drugs should be allowed to use one to get home safely, in the same way that they would catch a cab or an Uber.
When you think about it: it's not the stupidest idea we've ever had. We logically make it illegal for people with a BAC that's deemed to be too high to operate a vehicle to drive; it's a smart and safe way to prevent road deaths, and it works. But the sole reason for this is that alcohol impairs a driver's ability to safely react to changing conditions – say, an oncoming car or a pedestrian. Modern technology already exists in some vehicles, cutting in when an impending danger is spotted. In fact, some companies are claiming that in a few year's time their rides will be, in essence, "death proof".
Given this brave new world of driverless vehicles and safety features that can outthink a human, no matter how sober they are, let's be the first country to take one small step (off the gas pedal) and make not-operating your own vehicle the safest way to get home, for everybody involved.