The End of the Road? What Driverless Cars Mean for the Humble Roadtrip

June 20, 2018


Road safety


Ella Donald

Whether a Saturday afternoon, long weekend, or summer holidays, road trips are a fixture of family life. There’s a unique feeling associated with getting into a car and not knowing where you might end up. Ever since the first Holden was unveiled in 1948 and cars started to become a family fixture, they have been taking us on memorable adventures far and wide.

There’s the piling into the four-wheel-drive or sedan and heading for the hills at sunrise, the burn of leather and seatbelts as sand is shook into the carpets after a trip to the beach, or heading into the sunset at the end of the long day where kids doze in the back. Everything, from the bags of lollies passed around to the songs crackling on the radio become part of the experience, remembered in years to come.

There’s exhaustion, whether due to traffic, endless cries of ‘are we there yet?’, or fights breaking out between tired and hungry kids, but it’s also where memories are made - games of I Spy and finding a car of each colour, or just watching the world go by at a different pace.

But now, there is a force that could change the humble road trip, perhaps for better. With driverless (also known as self-driving and autonomous) cars being trialled around the world, and technology improving continuously, experts such as investment researcher David Galland project there will be 10 million on the road by 2020 and one in four cars will be autonomous by 2030.

Tesla, Toyota, BMW, and Ford are all looking to enter the game, and Uber is already exploring the concept with their fleet. Galland predicts that eventually every single one of the 1.4 billion cars globally will be replaced by self-driving vehicles.

How could a self-driving car make your road trips of the future a little smoother? Here are some of the ways.

Getting lost will be a thing of the past

Road maps have long gone out of vogue, first replaced with GPS systems and then smartphones, but with driverless cars, this will change yet again. The days of trying to understand directions on your phone, unwittingly going past the correct exit on the highway, will be gone - just get in your car, type in your destination, and away you go.

Aimlessness, of not really knowing your destination but just wanting to be in control of the stretch of road in front of you, will be gone, but it will sure help when you’ve got to make that housewarming by six o’clock.

Crashes will be reduced

The Queensland Government states that most car accidents are caused by human error - driver inexperience, risk-taking behaviour, speed, alcohol, and fatigue being some of the most common factors. These types of accidents are the most commonly avoidable. Therefore, reducing these factors - indeed by removing the human driver from the equation - would make roads safer for all.

Autonomous cars will also have the ability for the driver to resume manual control at any time if necessary, with studies showing that this variety in the journey will make those behind the wheel more alert.

Long Australian road
Most car accidents are caused by human error. Photo: iStock

Traffic jams? Also a thing of the past

Self-driving cars allow a greater density of passengers per-kilometre of road, allowing vehicles to move faster and potential congestion on main roads to be alleviated. They will also be smarter drivers than humans to boot - people who are unable to maintain the correct speed or merge smoothly and therefore hold everyone else up, be gone! More cars will pass through the green lights, cars will turn, and everyone will get on with their trip much smoother.

Drivers have the power to choose

Want to make things a bit more aimless, revisiting those winding road trips of days gone by as you go down a curvy mountain side? Take control of the wheel. Want to kick back and enjoy the view of a long stretch of road for a few kilometres, or deal with the crawling along in a traffic jam? Let the car do the driving. Autonomous cars let drivers decide how they want to use their vehicles, to either drive or let themselves be driven.

Further distances before pit-stops

Less stops and starts means less fuel, meaning that those interludes to the petrol station will be much farther between! Without all those detours to both fill up and take a rest from driving, you’ll be able to cut through the kilometres in much less time. Less ‘are we there yet?’, more getting there. Happy drivers, happy passengers, the road ahead is smooth for driverless cars.

Ella Donald

Ella Donald is a journalist, university tutor, critic, and writer from Brisbane, Australia. She teaches at the University of Queensland, and writes for publications including Vanity Fair, The Guardian, GQ, The Saturday Paper, Vice, ABC, Fairfax, and


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