Look, Mum! No Hands!

driverless car mouse2house.uk
driverless car
Driverless cars are about to be tested in the U.K., it seems…and if they work what a boon that will be for those who drive from necessity rather than pleasure, though what pleasure can be obtained from driving is beyond me unless on a single track road with passing places in the Highlands – or a German autobahn.

But doubts assail me…..when in France we lived in a sort of GPS Bermuda Triangle. Visitors would get as far as the nearby town and ‘phone in for directions, which was easy enough at the Christmas period when the area was illuminated for the festive season…not just the Santa Clauses making SAS raids on walls and roofs of private houses, but real illuminations: a windmill with revolving sails…reindeer and sleigh running across the tiles of a pavillon…champagne bottle with cork bursting forth on another…sinister purple and green icicles – they had only to follow the trail to arrive at the family fastness, dourly unlit safe for the security light, guaranteed to blind the driver as the car pulled up by the well chained gates.

Not so easy in other seasons. There is a phenomenon in rural France first described to me by an estate agent who had sent me out to visit a house I could not find.
You are, he said, approaching it from the wrong side.
I followed his detailed directions and saw what he meant…you had to approach your goal on roads on which the direction signs were visible – bar an overgrown tree or two – from the side on which you were approaching…not the side in which you might, if lucky, get a glimpse of something in the rear mirror in passing.
So directions had to amended accordingly….disregarding the most direct route in favour of that with visible signs and landmarks. So instead of the reindeer and icicles it had to be ‘leave the town in the opposite direction to that which seems sensible, cross the bridge, pass a chateau with searchlights sweeping the grounds, turn left….third left at the roundabout and if you see a bar on your left you have left it too soon…’
Well, you get the idea…but will the driverless car get it?

And even if they solve the GPS problem, what about local issues?
Not, I suppose, too much of a problem in the U.K., but what about France?

When I moved to rural France, while many people had ‘normal’ cars, and farmers drove around in little white vans,there were two other contingents in evidence.

The first – and least dangerous – was that of the ‘sans permis’. This car, a sort of box on wheels with limited engine power, could be driven by those who had lost their driving licence for over enthusiastic indulgence in bars, beer and assorted additional booze. Should you have any doubt about this, the said boxes were liberally adorned with stickers advertising said bars, beer and booze, variety being provided by other stickers of a dubious nature which indicated that, in France, there were some parts of the human anatomy that beer and assorted booze could not, indeed, reach.
As far as I am aware, the ‘sans permis’ still exists….but even if it could be converted to ‘driverless’ status can you imagine the ‘driver’ trying to download instructions to it at the end of a convivial evening….a bar full of troubled clients asking the patron to set it all up for them…. and even if he succeeds being sure that they are on the wrong road halfway home as it will take them on proper roads and not the tracks they generally use to avoid the gendarmerie patrols.
I foresee doctors’ waiting rooms full of alcoholics with nervous breakdowns…
Doctor, I have lost my way….

The other contingent is, unfortunately, no longer with us.
It consisted of elderly gentlemen – the papys – who had grown up in an era when the mode of transport was the bicycle and who had transferred the learning thus acquired to the 2CV they bought in later life…the model with the suicide doors.
They also imagined that the traffic was the same as when they were riding their bicycles, so would emerge at speed from track or minor road, looking neither to right nor left and go on their way, each one a Fangio crouched over the wheel.
Local knowledge was imperative…so that you knew that M. Dixneuf was likely to emerge onto the bend at the Salle de Fetes, Papy Georges from the track by Les Planches and to watch out for that lunatic Archambault at the mill on the river – especially after lunch.

As I say, these gallant gentlemen are no longer with us, but, in France, local knowledge is still vital to your survival on the roads…and how will the driverless car cope with this?

There were..and probably still are… three systems of priority in force.
Priority to traffic coming from the right.
Priority to traffic on major roads.
A hybrid of the two.

As far as I am aware there is no notification of a change of system…you find out the hard way and I’m unable to see how the driverless car will cope with this.

How will it distinguish between a white bollard at a road junction indicating that you have right of way and a white bollard with a red stripe indicating that the combine harvester approaching from your right can flatten you at will? Especially as the said bollard is probably in the ditch following the last passage of the combine harvester.

And what about the traffic light controlled roundabout where you enter on the green light only to find yourself obliged to give way to a stream of traffic entering from the right?

Or the unsigned change from department – priority to major road – to town – priority to the right?
Perhaps there should be an app indicating towns where the mayor’s brother in law runs a repair garage…

Or places where cars are parking on the roundabout, closing other exits, in order to buy their bread from the bakery situated there…

And what about narrow bridges where, nomatter what the arrows indicate, the driver of the big van will always drive on to force the car that got there first to reverse….

And what about the technology to be used?
With all the current emphasis on ‘buy French’, from striped jerseys to red Breton bonnets via salmon pink corsets, the likelihood is that it would be supplied by Orange – the name under which France Telecom hides its shame.

In which case…it’s back to the driver, drunk or sober…and remembering always to approach objectives from the right side.

42 thoughts on “Look, Mum! No Hands!”

  1. Having navigated Paris as a pedestrian (many years ago) I decided that trying to cope, in a DCV, with French drivers would probably shorten my life. So I left that to others and continued my (very valuable!) research into the local plonk. And some jolly nice vin ordinaire indeed, in some cases.

    1. As the great collaborator sang
      Oh yes, I remember it well…
      My first experience was the bottle with five stars in the neck at the Algerian Stores near the Gare du Nord…but things picked up from there….

  2. I don’t like the sound of this at all. It will never work. I dread to think how the Turks would cope. They would be so impatient at not being able to sail through red lights for a start.

  3. We get that too. People arrive at the nearest village and try to phone us for directions, only to find that there is no network.

  4. Hmm. If I made my living from driving lorries I would be deeply concerned by this. As it is I am concerned anyway. Not sure I’d trust my life on the road to a machine… though fully acknowledging that if I had an accident various machines would keep me alive and help put me back together again.

  5. Great post, Helen – it made me grin because our region still has those elderly gents you talk about, but they drive C15 vans, which appear to pilot themselves pretty well when their owners are on their way home from the local bar after boar hunting or mushroom picking with their pals. Yes, the electric cars still exist – they’ve even domes some decidedly pseudo-sexy ones for the ladies (the neighbor down the lane has a snazzy red one – if you’re drunk you could almost convince yourself it’s a Smart that’s been through the wrangler).
    Hope you’re keeping well, girl. Big nuggs from MM xoxo

      1. Snazzy sans permis! Whatever next!
        And, like you, i suspect that the papys have invented a self drive car already…but are keeping under their flat caps in case the government tax the idea…

        Hope all’s well your end…

  6. Ah, the challenges of driving in France. It’s a guessing game, isn’t it? Will that car at the little crossroads ahead wait until we have passed, or will it, as so often, either lurch out at the last moment or glide serenely on its way so that we have to stamp on the brakes and risk impact from the tailgater behind? Who will then blast their klaxon indignantly and wave their Gallic fist. Personally I’ve found that driving here has been an invaluable lesson in just how alert a driver must be to stay alive. Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, foot ready to switch from accelerator in a nano-second, heart always hovering somewhere in the oesophagus. Having driven in Kenya for many years probably gave me a headstart. It is only possible to follow directions to our hamlet from one direction by telling visitors to look for the signboard to the hamlet in the opposite direction and then turning right instead of left.

    1. Oh yes….you are on the major road…you can see the car hovering at the junction, and you wonder not so much whether it will pull out, for pull out it will, but whether it will be in front of you or into you…
      Leo used to reckon that the gap between the driver seeing you and deciding what to do about it was one of long duration….

      And the bright sparks who overtake you unsighted going uphill and then do a sharp coup de poisson as a car appears over the top on the other side….

      I see you had the ‘approach from the right direction’ phenomenon too…it’s something none of the rose tinted books of life in rural France seem to mention.

  7. Helen, you should send this to the powers that be. I am sure that similar problems will arise in Britain – similar but different. I can deal with railways just fine. But letting automation loose on our roads – no, no, no.

  8. It is a scary thought, but I think that driverless cars are to be aimed at towns and cities rather than the countryside, as they will take their signal from a satellite, which will have a limited range. Even the British countryside has too many variables for driverless cars to cope with.

    1. Well, if it’s for that then why don’t they use them on the pattern of the Autolib in Paris…you hire the car for the time you need….and then don’t need to buy one yourself.

  9. Yes as far as I know the ‘sans permis’ is still in existence and there seems to be a lot of them around holding up the traffic. I give way to every side here, it might annoy the person behind me, but it is the safest. As for a GPS I don’t think they will ever get it correct. Ours is supposed to be updated, but it still does not know the old roads let alone the new ones. It happily sends you down roads that have been dead ends since the year dot when the town was first built. Driverless cars could have fun on dead ends by just keeping going and trying to jump a wall or a house, or more likely flattening the front of the car. Hopefully all the practise runs will be somewhere where accidents are already many, they will just add a few more to the list or bring the accident rate down! Great that we would not have to decide who is on water when we go out to dinner so that person can drive home. On the other hand as you say, then we could both joining AA.
    Hope that you are both well, Diane

    1. When having visitors in France there was always someone who wanted to go everywhere guided by the GPS – once leaving the Triangle….so we found ourselves on many a single track road with grass down the middle which ended at a fence protecting a new motorway….

      And I’d love to see it in action here……out in the sticks!

      Enjoy your Sunday – and don’t work too hard!

  10. I understand the Bermuda triangle of Paris. But then my nickname is Mrs. Magoo. I kid you not, if there are directions to mess up… that’s my talent. So then about the drive itself car. What are all the possibilities of glitches. I hate to think about that. I don’t know what the solution is for accidents, driving while under the influence or otherwise distracted (phones, texting, etc), and overpopulation on the roads. A digression here but worth your response. I live south of Santa Barbara down Hwy 101. A couple of years ago the Hwy was closed, and detour routes were directed that ended up bumper to bumper for several hours. Why? This is a true story. Monica Lewinsky dropped her purse on the floor by the passenger’s side and bent down to pick it up. She rolled her car. In this case, it’s not “look mum, no hands,” it’s “look mum no brains.” Happy Sunday, Helen. 🙂

    1. All too many empty cranial cavities about, aren’t there….but that takes the biscuit!
      I would rather like a car that drove itself….but don’t have a lot of confidence in the technology…and have more than a sneaking suspicion that it couldn’t cope with the no brainers in the self drive cars on the same road…

  11. I have pondered each of the “points of interest” you raise about driving in France on many occasions…..roundabouts seem to have some strange rules too…which again, vary from roundabout to roundabout, let alone region to region. However, I have never strung them altogether like this and now I think I’m terrified to take the car out. …and that’s before driverless vehichles take to the road.

    1. I fogot to mention those double roundabouts which, when installed in our local town, caused endless tailbacks while those at the front decided on their tactics….a bit like the lobster quadrille…one minute all was inaction and then all at once they all advanced…

  12. I think you are too pessimistic. Exactly because vehicles would be driverless they wouldn’t be as power crazy as the current human drivers. There would be no road rage.

    Enforced sanity on the roads. Wouldn’t that be boring.

  13. Whenever I have a heart stopping moment while flying with my private pilot husband, he reminds how much safer I am in the air – statistically- than ever in a car. You prove his point emphatically, Helen.

  14. They’ll never get far in France with driverless cars. Quite apart from the eccentric habits of locals, all cars would come to a halt at the end of internet coverage and have to be pushed into the village, or hold up the combine harvester with potentially fatal results…

  15. Our mate arrived at our finca from British Antarctica via Chile and Madrid without a single ‘phone call. We had expected one but instead we were cleaning out casa chica for him and there was a knock on the door. I’d sent some directions and bus instructions on a brief email, but it was still pretty impressive. Which just goes to prove what is needed is an efficient public transport system and less cars.

  16. Nope, wouldn’t work in rural Mid-wales either. Possibly in central London where nothing moves fast in any case, but nowhere else. As for driving in France, I leave that to DH as I don’t drive the very small campervan. Mind you, its size does give drivers of smaller vehicles reason to be a little careful about tangling with it, so we have been unscathed so far, though DH’s hair is greyer than it was…

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