What would people want to do in a car if they didn’t have to drive it?

Grae Stafford Freelance Photographer
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Apparently, drivers would be happy to give up driving.

In a poll of 2000 customers conducted for, 34 percent said that they would buy a a self-driving car, and a further 56 percent said that they would consider it if doing so would cause their car insurance premiums to drop.

So how soon will you be able to sit back like Will Smith in “I, Robot” and let your car take you wherever you want to go?

Despite their sci-fi image, self-driving cars are actually closer than many people realize. Speaking to CNBC in October, Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said, “By 2018, you should be able to drive on the highway and the car will handle steering, speed and lane control. By 2020, your car will do lane changes and we’ll see more features to handle stop-and-go traffic in urban areas. Ten years from now, cars will be communicating with street lights and other vehicles to help with traffic flow.”

The survey also asked people whose self-driving car they would theoretically want to buy? Tesla Motors came out on top, with 18 percent of the vote; 15 percent would plump for a Google or Microsoft car, and 12 percent said a Samsung of Apple car. (We’ll go out on a limb and guess that it would be called the “iCar” or “iWheel.”)

The arrival of self-driving cars could also herald a huge drop in the number of road deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2008 found that in 95 percent of accidents, human error was to blame — not the car. So with cars able to interact with road architecture like street lights, cross roads and off ramps, as suggested by Rajkumar, the human component of driving could be removed entirely, leaving passengers to do whatever they would like in their autonomous bubble?

The survey asked what would current drivers do with all their newly acquired spare time were they to get their autonomous car. Twenty-six percent of people would talk or text with friends, 21 percent would read, and a final 10 percent would use the time to catch up on missed sleep.

We know what we’d do (and it isn’t on that list).

Google has been testing self-driving cars since 2010, and has logged hundreds of thousands of miles in testing on public roads in California and Nevada (with a back-up human along for the ride, just in case of a system failure).

Other auto manufacturers have also built out the autonomous functions of their cars. Mercedes has radar-controlled cruise control for its cars, and radar detection has become a common option. Ford has even gone as far as installing a self-driving parking option that can operate completely independently of the driver.

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