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.