Letter From The UK: Technology Will Save Us All. (Or Not).

  • Words like “technology” and “revolution” are often used in tandem to describe a brighter future.
  • But do they hold any real meaning? Or are they just buzz words thrown around haphazardly?
  • Will things like autonomous driving make the world better? 

The first in two-part series, Geoff Maxted examines how our greatest technological promises face immense challenges and glaring drawbacks. 

During a recent speech, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the vapid Mrs. Theresa May, emphasised plans to put the UK at the “forefront of a 21st century transport revolution” by investing heavily in the automotive sector. She also stated that the Government aims to encourage development in “design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles.”

Is this really so? Consider this:

The Electrified Era

The latest models are pretty good and I’ve driven a few. I especially like the new Nissan Leaf. Much of my driving is local and it would be straightforward to charge the car through the night. Unfortunately I also need to drive longer distances, often at short notice, so have to stick with fossil fuels for now.

The reason why I could not travel long distances is because, in the desire to rush these otherwise excellent vehicles to market, the matter of a charging infrastructure was rather overlooked. If it’s like that here on our tiny island imagine what it would be like in the USA.

By all means give our cars the means to dodge each other but please don’t take away the simple pleasure of driving ourselves. Click To Tweet

Electric cars are selling, mostly to two-car families who have another option. This is an example of why:

No Universal Approach

A colleague was recently road-testing an EV for a week. When some distance from home he needed to boost the charge. He found a charge-point only to discover just two charging posts, one of which was not working. There were three cars waiting to charge. That means his 45 minute top-up would have taken three hours.

Not on is it?

Although EV charging points are slowly appearing, it is a singularly piecemeal approach. Different companies offer different packages; there is no “one size fits all.” Charging points are often not working and sometimes vandalized. Occasionally they are used by dim and oafish people as a free parking space. You can see the problem. And there are other long-term drawbacks.

It all comes down to how you introduce the technology in the first place.

The Autonomous Era

This writer cannot tell you how sick and tired he is of hearing that autonomous cars are our golden automotive future, that “21st century transport revolution” the Prime Minister spoke of. Honestly, I wilt like a hothouse flower in the cold air of reality when I hear people espousing this technology as something soon to be achieved. So pardon me for not being upbeat and absolutely mad for it but no it isn’t; not in our lifetimes anyway and this is why:

As it is with electric cars, so it is with their autonomous equivalent. Nobody stopped to ask about infrastructure first. Any of you over there in America who has ever visited these barren shores, teetering anxiously on the edge of the European pipe-dream, will have seen our roads.

Warning Signs

Autonomous cars are all very well in tests on special routes with all the signage, roadside traffic lines, and other demarcations, but once off these routes it all falls apart. Our roads are broken and crumbling; some no better than Peruvian goat tracks (I’m assuming. I have never been to Peru. Apologies to goatherds everywhere if I am out of line). Many do not have white (UK) outer edge lines. Signage is often obscured by trees or damage.

GPS is very good here but can be patchy: Do you see where I am going with this?

Indeed, I have recently heard some in the motor industry beginning to ask, in the real world of bad highways and idiot drivers, if autonomous cars are even worth bothering about. Many good things have come about because of the research into and development of auto technology. We now have safety equipment unheard of just ten years ago.

The answer is of course to forget this totally autonomous pie-in-the-sky nonsense and get real.

Photo: Volvo Car Group.

Paving Paradise

You know, Joni Mitchell once warbled:

“Hey farmer farmer
Put away that D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please!”

She was voicing (I bought that record. I’ve never told anyone that) an appeal to leave us something of nature and not let technology rob us of all the simple pleasures of life.

By all means give our cars the means to dodge each other but please don’t take away the simple pleasure of driving ourselves. We may not always be terrifically good at it but it’s a matter of personal freedoms surely? I will gladly drive an electric car if it can get me where I need to be and back again conveniently and safely. I will delight in doing so.

What I don’t want is to have my choices dictated by the state.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

*Part 2 of Technology Will Save Us All. (Or Not) can be found here.

Cover Photo: Nissan North America.

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