Will our future be filled with self-driving cars? If so, when are they due to hit our streets, will they have steering wheels, and will people own them or hail them? There is, we suggest, an ‘emotive enthusiasm’ amongst policymakers and industry players to see, and indeed help bring about, a future mobility revolution. Some commentators are pointing to eye watering rewards for the taking in economic terms both in relation to a new high-tech manufacturing and services sector and in relation to benefits to society from ‘going driverless’. However, is this a case of being seduced by the siren sound of technology? This paper seeks to offer some perspective on this matter. As authors we draw upon our combined experience as part of a series of UK Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) R&D projects and in working with national transport authorities to expose and address deep uncertainty concerning the future.
The paper focuses upon the remarkable sense of inevitability surrounding CAVs as a policy-transformative technology and why such strong global enthusiasm for moving towards a CAV future has been stirred up. While many benefits have been pointed to by proponents of such a future, our central interest is in foregrounding the many assumptions that underpin any depiction of a future CAV scenario. There are four categories of assumptions: technology readiness; consumer adoption; performance and consequences; and synergies (how the context in which any CAV future sits will also have changed from present day). The paper moves from its title question of who is in the driving seat to arrive at what we consider to be one of the most poignant questions – who is in the passenger seat?