On architects’ drawing boards right now, there are housing estates with lots of trees, lawns and flower beds but no garages or parking spaces.
So what about your car? The futuristic planner explains: “You input a number on your mobile phone and your car leaves a nearby multi-storey car park and arrives at your front door.” There is nobody behind the wheel, of course, for this is a driverless vehicle.
In what has been described as “the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the petrol engine,” the government is to allow driverless cars onto a small number of British roads next year. If the experiment proves successful, they will move to 70mph motorways.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne believes automated private cars and public transport will revolutionise motoring by 2020. He said last week, “At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies.”
The change will be more evolutionary than revolutionary, said Mr Tim Armitage of the Autodrive consortium. He said there was a perception that driverless cars came without a steering wheel. In fact, they must have a manual driver behind the wheel who can take over if the computer-driven system fails.
Eventually, experts believe, vehicles will be entirely autonomous and come at your beck and call. After dropping you at home, the car — either your own or a taxi — will return to its parking space in the multi-storey building or go on to its next job.
If the reaction of television viewers is anything to go by, the man in the street is less enthusiastic than the government. Reactions to a Sky News story ranged from: “A disaster waiting to happen,” to “This is insane.”
And inevitably, the pub question: “If you have one of these cars and you go down to the pub, do you have a few beers or do you refrain just in case the computer fails and you have to drive home? What’s the point of having a driverless car if you can’t have a few beers?”
Last week, this column reported how a Nigerian-born British businessman was arrested when someone saw the word “prayer” on his mobile phone and concluded that he was a terrorist. He complained that this sort of irrational panic was just what the terrorists wanted.
A week later it happened again, but this time even dafter. A boy aged four drew a picture of his dad at work in the kitchen with a large knife. The people at the boy’s Luton nursery asked him what the picture showed, and thought that he replied a “cooker bomb.” They promptly called the police. What the boy was trying to say was “cucumber.” His dad was making cucumber sandwiches.
It is widely accepted that children these days are less active, and therefore fatter, than their parents were because they spend so much time in their bedrooms playing computer games. Medical experts say obesity is a real problem with the younger generation.
Are things about to get worse? In America, there is a move to stop under-18s from heading the ball when they play football for fear they might sustain a brain injury. And here in Britain, there are calls for an end to body tackles in boys’ rugby.
GETTING THROWN DOWN
Needless to say, the cold-shower brigade is outraged, as evident by these reactions in my local paper:
Richard Robson: 100 years ago, kids were getting thrown down a mine for 12 hours without any light. Now they mustn’t head a ball. Get a grip!
Cheryl Abdul: No heading, no tackling, no wonder we can’t win anything.
Darren Frazer: Maybe they should wear steel-capped boots in case they hurt their toes.
Abi Hill: I fell off horses regularly from the age of three until 15. I turned out OK.
Claire Derbyshire, 36, suffocated her ailing father with a plastic bag, claiming it was part of a failed suicide pact. The jury found her guilty of murder and, last week, she was jailed for life with a minimum of four years.
The judge said the daughter believed it was an act of mercy but failed to establish that her father had agreed.
Things NOT to say to a policeman when he stops you on the highway:
“Look here, my good man, I pay your salary.”
“I can’t reach my licence unless you hold my beer.”
“Gosh, officer, that’s nice of you. The last policeman who stopped me only gave me a warning, too.”
“No, I don’t know how fast I was going. The little needle only goes up to 110mph.”
“Hurry up and write the ticket, the bars close in 20 minutes.”