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Could Self-Driving Cars Spell the Death of Road Rage?

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Nothing provokes me more than the questionable driving habits of my fellow motorists. They slam on their brakes at inopportune moments, cut me up, fail to say thanks when I let them in at junctions and generally do their utmost to trigger thoughts of murderous retribution.

Such feelings of road rage are all too common on my daily commute, but they might one day be consigned to the history books thanks to the impending arrival of self-driving vehicles. When our roads are populated by autonomous cars that efficiently scythe their way through city streets and motorways, all the main triggers of road rage will surely be eradicated and neither I, nor you, will have anything to moan about.

With computers at the wheel, there will be no sudden braking, no dangerous weaving, no tailgating or crashing. Sure, they'll go haywire every once in a while - even the autopilot systems on modern aircraft aren't completely infallible - but for the most part our journeys will be seamless, relaxing, stress-free affairs.

With traffic moving as one harmonious metal snake, traffic jams will become a thing of the past. Cars will drive more sensibly than we do, so we'll spend less cash on fuel and we'll all become more productive, working, sleeping or socialising while letting the car get on with the driving.

It sounds perfect - almost too perfect.

However, the idyllic theory falls down when you consider the fact that humans will always complain no matter what - it's in our very nature. Taxi drivers will go postal because they're being put out of a job, driving enthusiasts will swear blind they'd rather be the ones inching their cars through stop-start traffic and even those that love the idea of autonomous cars will end up venting their latent rage elsewhere.

Think about it: self-driving cars may get us to the office feeling rested and stress-free, but relaxation isn't always the best medicine. Whether we admit it or not, some of us actually need that daily dose of horn beeping, throttle stomping and middle finger saluting as a means of purging stress. Surely it's far better, then, to scream expletives at pedestrians (without actually murdering them) than to have these robo cars rob us of an opportunity to let it all out? Personally, I'd rather direct exotic sign language at a slow-moving granny than let it fester, get to work and find I've inexplicably stabbed my boss with his own biro.

Many of you will disagree, of course, but we'll discover how this all plays out soon enough. Google has a fleet of modified Toyotas and Lexuses which, between them, have racked up over 300,000 miles of accident-free driving on Nevada streets. Meanwhile here in Europe, Volvo and its partners have developed the SARTRE vehicle platooning system, which allows several cars to follow each other in a road train as their drivers kick back and relax. Hell, cars like the Ford Focus already steer themselves on the motorway and can parallel park with nearly no human intervention.

Cars like these may promote short term peace but the solution to long term sanity may be to rage against the machine.

Rory Reid, Editor, http://recombu.com/cars