How driverless cars will affect young people
A street view by 2025AD author Raven Brookes and her team who take to the trendy streets of Digbeth to understand how driverless cars will affect Birmingham and its young people
Think of Birmingham, and chances are you think of bustling city streets and shopping centres, an eclectic and colourful nightlife, or perhaps a legacy in industry. But soon, Birmingham will be at the forefront of what the UK is making possible with driverless infrastructure, and will inspire some very different paths of thought.
It’s the UK’s second city, with the wider metropolitan area being where 3.8 million people – nearly 6 per cent of the entire UK population – call home. In 2017, the city itself had 1.1 million inhabitants, with a projected increase of 500,000 expected by 2021. And a city this big plays host to a lot of cars: 1.79 million to be exact. It’s also a popular city for commuting workers too, with over 166,000 coming in from the surrounding areas.
Needless to say, transport is essential to the dynamics of such a place, and it’s investing heavily. It has an extensive metro network, a newly developed major rail station now known as Grand Central, and cycle routes. It’s also gearing up to take on driverless technology. The initiative Midlands Future Mobility has been awarded a new £11 million programme to evaluate connected and autonomous vehicles which will impact on the city enormously.
But what do the young people of Birmingham think of the city’s plans to go driverless? We take to the trendy streets of the iconic Digbeth to find out.
Mike, 29, social media executive: Birmingham is a proactive city, and not afraid to do things differently. It invests in growing with the times. It stays current and offers a lot. It pushes the boundaries. I think having automated car systems would integrate very well in Birmingham’s existing developments, such as the new metro. There would be less emissions too, which means the city would be greener.
Having a driverless car, which I definitely would, could give me the opportunity to make better use of my commuting time. If it could pick people up for me that’d save time too.
Tanya, late 20s, runs a vintage clothing shop: If I did drive, I would get home much faster than I do now. I rely on buses and trains, which means two hours of my day are taken up with travelling. It's difficult to get that work-life balance right now. If I could get back just half-an-hour, I'd have more time for me. Driverless cars would make a huge difference. I'd get home sooner, and I'd still be able to chill out and read on my commute.
I feel that, if you were going to have driverless cars, all cars would have to be driverless. Road journeys are not set in stone. They are not predictable. Driverless buses, for example, could feel really scary if there were normal cars on the road too.
Daniel, 19, chef: For someone who does a lot of work, they could benefit from driverless cars, by getting more work done as they travel like they would on trains. However, I'm not sure they're completely safe.
I probably wouldn’t leave kids in the cars unsupervised, for example. If I had a kid, I would want to be in the car too. Someone could even hack into the car and take the kid. There's always that one person that finds that way into the system, it doesn’t matter how secure it is.
Eoghan, late 20s, the Brewdog brewery: Driverless cars should make the roads much safer. If you look at any other industry that has a human-tech crossover, you'll find that it does. Even in brewing! Our main brewery is all computer controlled and there are no mess-ups. I think you get more accidents with human error rather than computer error.
It could make social stuff more inclusive too. For those groups who want to come out and have a few drinks, chances are they have a designated driver who can't fully enjoy the night with the rest of them. Driverless cars would cancel that out, and everyone would get home safely without overspending on taxis.
Ellie, 19, student: If I had a driveress car, I'd be in it all the time. I would go to all sorts of places and I'd do more stuff. I'm getting tired sitting at home, doing nothing, because I haven’t got a car – and I hate buses! I could even get changed in the back without worrying about the wheel.
Would I miss driving? Yes and no. I mean, I love manual driving. But auto is better than manual for certain kinds of journeys. Although, its effect on Birmingham might be a bad one. If everyone has one, the roads will be more rammed and nobody will be able to get around very fast.
Kieran, 22, graphic design student: I would love getting into a driverless car at the end of a night out, but that’s because I like quite futuristic things. I imagine safety that will be the main thing that people worry about, especially the older generations. They probably won't get it.
I'd also worry that driverless technology would bring most people to their phones, kind of halfway to the film Wall-E. People who normally walk to work would be getting these little pods instead, so that is less exercise and less engagement with the world. They will just be in this little pod, and won't see anything that is going on with the world unless it's on their phone screen.
Luke, 25, proofreader: I've mostly seen driverless as a thing of the distant future. But, if they were to become reality, I would be able to find more time to do the things I love to do, such as write. Similar to the way I can do my work on the train or bus, I could focus solely on my work whilst still travelling directly from A to B.
I think I'd miss 'normal' driving, though. It's quite nice to go for short drives at night. It helps me wind down, when the roads are empty and you can just go at your own speed. Saying that, I think the perks of having a driverless car would outweigh this.
According to the young people of Digbeth, driverless cars will offer the people of Birmingham countless opportunities in terms of time and money saving, and even more for adventure. For some, it could completely change the way they live their lives. But the jury seems to be out as to whether a driverless city will be safer, and there are even deeper fears about further reliance on technology for public autonomy.
Safety and overreliance on technology – is this a universal fear shared by young and old alike? Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts.