COLUMN: Driverless cars could save rural Kildare

Benefits to the elderly living in isolated areas

Niamh O'Donoghue


Niamh O'Donoghue


COLUMN: Driverless cars could save rural Kildare

File Pic: Rathangan

Silence. That was the sound, or lack there of, as the BMW 530E sailed past myself and my colleague on Basin Street, Naas.

It was eerie to see such a big powerful motor slide by noiselessly. In fact, it’s easy to see how someone might absentmindedly walk out into its path without the warning of an approaching, fully-primed petrol or diesel engine.

We all know electric cars are the future and automated cars are on the horizon — it’s been heralded from on high.

Of course the dawning of this new age is good for the environment and that can only be positive.

Google, Uber and Mercedes are already in on the act. French company Valeo in Tuam has 600 employees dedicated to research on autonomous vehicles.

Toyota has said it won’t be making any more passenger diesel cars by the end of this year.

This got me thinking about the other benefits/side effects of electrification and automated cars.

When drinking driving laws became more robust, which is also a good thing, this had a knock on effect on rural areas in Kildare and around the country.

Many elderly people living in isolated areas outside the main towns were cut off.

My late granddad, or Tom as we called him, loved to work in the garden. Tending to his sweetpeas, an immaculate vegetable patch,
his pond and an array of flower beds at his home near Rathangan, he loved nothing better than to pop down to the pub after a hard day’s graft.

In Fullam’s bar, he would catch up with friends, discuss the issues of the day and enjoy the banter with the owner, John.

Tom would have one or two drinks and tip on home in the car. However, the clampdown on drink driving, which again I point out that I agree with, meant he couldn’t go down the town unless he had a lift. Okay, people might suggest that he could take a taxi or a bus. But many older people are set in their ways, and taxis would not be their preferred mode of transport.

It’s important to also point out many rural areas are not on bus routes.

However, with improvements in technology, driverless cars could be the key to helping elderly people get back into their social circle. Cars could be programmed to drop them to the pub and bring them home safely. There would be no drink drivers on the road.

People could get to the pub, club or social event without having to worry how they would get there or get home. Those who stopped going to the pub because of drink driving laws, could again get out and about. This would also benefit the local pubs, who could see an increase in business. Driverless cars could also make taxis redundant. If you were a little worse for the wear after a night out, wouldn’t it be great to venture out into the carpark ( stagger), hop (fall) into your automated car, press (fumble) for the button, and on home you go. No waiting in the cold and rain.

If you were commuting to work from Kildare, you could carpool, sit back and relax, catch up with work, chat on your phone, enjoy the scenery, or maybe even have a bit of a kip. Minister Shane Ross has described the EU’s wish to have fully autonomous motor vehicles circulating in the EU by 2019 as an ambitious target. He’s right. Our road infrastructure is not yet ready, but it will be at some point in the future.

Of course, there are issues to be worked out and technology honed. On March 18, an Uber operating in autonomous mode struck and killed a lady in Arizona. Investigations are continuing into how the crash occurred and no doubt lessons will be learned.