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The end of human driving? Why Angela Merkel got it right

Angela Merkel: The German chancellor is a supporter of automated driving. (Photo: Guido Bergmann / Bundesregierung)

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Ralf Lenninger
Ralf Lenninger
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German chancellor Angela Merkel talks about making autonomous driving mandatory – and people are shocked. But why? Merkel has a point, argues Ralf Lenninger, Continental CEO of Intelligent Transportation Systems.

The outcry of the German media didn’t take long. “Merkel shocks German car drivers,” one outlet stated. So what happened?

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of THE car nation, recently made a bold forecast. Talking about the prospects of autonomous driving, she said: “In 20 years’ time, we will need a special permit to drive a car ourselves.” Simply put: Merkel expects autonomous driving to become mandatory by the year 2037.

Merkel made the comment during a discussion with students at a research campus in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Admittedly, for Merkel’s standards, this is a surprisingly concrete claim. She is known as a politician who considers all the options for as long as possible before taking a stance. Yet now comes this precise statement – from the leader of a country where introducing a general speed limit can amount to political suicide.

But leaving that aside: What’s wrong with Merkel’s statement?

A typical argument I hear in discussions is that the fun of driving will disappear entirely with autonomous cars. However, what would people have said back when the automobile was introduced? That the pleasure of riding a carriage with real horses would disappear? That the special relationship between the carriage driver and the horses would end? That workers who depend on horses and carriages would eventually have no work? Probably. And you know what: They would have been right!

Horse carriages have become a means of entertainment. (Photo: Ingo Bartussek / Fotolia)

But ask yourself this: Who misses all of that today? Nobody. Instead people have found the car to be a way to have fun and millions of new jobs have been created. And now, in the same way, people will find new forms of entertainment and personal fulfillment. Be it with their automated car or in another way.  

Henry Ford was right when he said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.” And that’s okay – after all, it’s impossible that everybody foresees all the implications of automated driving. And that’s why we have 2025AD – to develop the understanding and discussion of the benefits and challenges.

Exchanging different points of view is important – blind faith in technological progress is not desirable. However, what we know for a fact is that today we accept 1.25 million traffic fatalities per year globally – and that automated driving will be able to reduce this number significantly. Angela Merkel got it right when she said: “We are the biggest risk.” The human drivers, she meant.

So let’s accept this challenge to make the world a safer and better place. Humans will always find a way to express themselves – it doesn’t need to be by driving a car.

What do you think about this? I would like to hear your thoughts! You can share them in the comment section or let me know at contact2025adcom. You can also take part in our quick poll on this subject (see right side of the website)

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Ralf Lenninger
Ralf Lenninger
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