Could the 2040 ban on petrol and diesel cars be the perfect springboard for mainstream fully autonomous vehicles?

With the Government recently announcing a cease in the sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, could it be that the fully autonomous future won't be far behind? 

Granted, it is predicted that all-electric cars will out-compete their petrol and diesel counterparts in sales regardless by the mid-2020s; but with those years looming close and no immediate plans to remove manually driven cars, it doesn't seem like the fully autonomous future is currently quite as plausible.

It is, however, something that has been discussed on many an occasion - 'the complete ban on cars that have a driver' - but even with recent advancements in technology, there's still a lack of trust in our robot car successors. Even so, even with this reluctance to relinquish control, I dare you to imagine a future that isn't reminiscent of a scene from iRobot. 

It is almost guaranteed that in your vision of the future those driverless cars - in which people were catching some extra z's, chatting with friends or even completing extra work before getting to the office - were silent and utilised a power source that isn’t the traditional petrol, diesel or hybrid power of today – when was the last time you imagined an autonomous car with a raging 5-litre V8?

In fact, it seems relatively excessive to even imagine a performance engine in a vehicle that will never be enjoyed in what we consider the traditional sense of ‘driving’. It is this very removal of traditional enjoyment that causes the question: could the rise of autonomy be a product of the removal of traditionally "enjoyable fuel sources"?

Ok, we're probably talking more about when petrol and diesel cars are banned entirely on public roads and that isn't what the new car sales ban is all about. But let’s entertain the thinking for a moment.

At current, there is still a certain (slowly waining) stigma between enthusiasts around alternative energies and their ability to offer a pure driving experience whilst you’re behind the wheel. Using that logic, in a future where all-electric cars are almost - for want of a better term - 'compulsory', would people really care if they were the entity in control of the vehicle?

Possibly the best modern example of this thinking will have been experienced by anyone who has ever been on a train – when you sat down, did it even cross your mind whether the train handled well or whether it was powered by electricity, diesel or even hamsters? With that in mind, climbing into your silent all-electric pod after a tiring Monday at work, heading towards the unavoidable rush hour traffic jams, do you even care if you're the driver?

Let's take that one step further. What if that is the case? What if we all then give in to the fully autonomous future - the removal of drivers would also see handling characteristics rendered null and void. Without humans at the wheel, a car’s ability to handle a corner or the way in which it accelerates off the line would no longer be critiqued. 

Would the subsequent effect of this be that scientists and automotive manufacturers gain almost free reign as to what energy sources they investigate and use. Whilst humans still drive cars, there will always be some need to build cars that are fun to drive but, with the need for driving performance and pure driving feel entirely removed, an engine could be created solely to offer economy and the remaining vehicle created to offer nothing but comfort and technology. There is the very real chance that the rise of alternate energy and autonomy will almost entirely end what we and limited future generations call 'driving'.

Now, that thinking is somewhat down the rabbit hole and assumes that the masses begin to utilise autonomous cars. It therefore doesn’t consider those who regard driving as a hobby. Regardless of the extent to which autonomous and alternate energy cars become ‘the norm’, it seems sensible to assume that there will always be people and cars that chase the best driving experience possible. We like to think that there will always be purists who concern themselves with traditional driving and the feel of a car – therefore meaning that there will always be a need for performance cars in some capacity.

With that in mind, what if a public road ban on traditionally driven cars is actually a blessing in disguise for car enthusiasts? Could a ban cause the calibre of performance cars to increase tenfold? 

Much like the rise of track day specific cars that we saw a few years ago, could we see a new breed of 'enjoyment dedicated' car arise? Cars created solely for the enjoyment of driving would no longer have to concern themselves with daily commute practicality, the removal of the general public from these roads could promote relaxed road laws and reduced pollution, thanks to the masses utilising alternate energy sources, could see the re-introduction of traditional fuel methods on these roads. 

When you consider that driverless cars will be continually communicating with each other to ensure occupant safety that far surpasses the ability of a human, it seems reasonable that at some point (on certain roads at least) cars that require a driver will be banned for safety reasons. Of course, when talking about a future that seems to change almost by the second, it is almost impossible to predict what will happen and it's almost impossible not to get carried away. That said, with recent advances in everything from technology to law, it seems entirely plausible that we could see a future ruled by driverless cars - it seems almost definite that we'll see a future ruled by alternate energy.

What do you think? Could the inevitable switch-over to nothing but all-electric cars be just the springboard that the entirely autonomous future is waiting for?

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