The self-driving car – Why we should keep the wheel in own hands

google-toont-zelfrijdende-auto-zonder-stuur Bron: Google images

The driverless car is arriving. Soon, joining the daily traffic jams will be a lot more enjoyable. Traffic jams could also disappear. The use of cars can be much more effective if we make best use of the technology and available data. The self-driving car has the potential to dramatically change our mobility. But who decides which direction we go?

It’s just a matter of time before the autonomous car will arrive. Nearly all car manufacturers are well into the development of this technology. Google as well has thousands of successful test kilometers behind it. Several regions, including Flanders, are happy to offer themselves as a testing ground.

In our opinion, it is completely justified. One of the main advantages of the autonomous car is safety: “Go for Zero” is achievable if human error behind the wheel will be excluded. Therefore, we hope that the autonomous car will appear in our streets sooner rather than later.


Automation has been in progress for a while. Using cruise-control, the driver’s foot can already leave the pedal. Certain types of cars can park autonomous. Step by step technology takes over. The main obstacle seems not the technology, but (for the time being) rather the liability insurance. A problem that Europe will certainly solve. Once it drives itself, a car will be pure delight. The driver, well, the occupant, can do anything: read, work, eat breakfast, game, … . Traffic jams are no longer wasted time.

In this scenario, the fleet will be gradually exchanged for attractive driverless cars. The standard for car ownership remains individual, and the number of cars on the road will rather increase. Traffic jams can shorten, because autonomous cars drive more compact. Nevertheless, this advantage will be annulled, because people prefer to travel more often and further to attend their workplace. Commuting from home to work is simply no longer lost time.

The impact of this scenario is divers. Road safety increases, but the energy consumption of driving will increase sooner. Within this scenario, the autonomous car implies by no means a mobility revolution.

Scenario shared mobility

If operators optimize the use of data and technology, shared mobility becomes the norm. Instead of choosing your destination in the car, you can do this at home with your smartphone. Smart algorithms and personal preferences will determine whether a vehicle, whether or not with other passengers, is approaching you. Along the way, you’ll learn whether you should or should not take a transfer.

The current terminology of buses, carpooling and car sharing disappears. Mobility becomes a service. Just like Spotify replaces the CD rack, this new shared mobility will replace private property. Not that much because it is economic and ecologic, but mainly because it is possible.

Mpact is obviously a big fan of this scenario. However, we recommend to let this not just happen to us. Google and Facebook also just happened to us: mastodons, who overcame the free market. Do we want a global player to become the public transport of the future? Perhaps we do, because of the quality. But not if we as users and government want some autonomy. And do you believe in that?

Who will determine regulations regarding use of personal data? Which mobility patterns will be mapped to invest in efficiency? Where will profits be cumulated?

The liberalization of the energy market has taught us that we better plan well. The German energy market eventually becomes decentralized. Cooperative green producers get started and challenge the traditional players. In Belgium, it is much more difficult to manage this. The central nuclear capacity rather restrains the market forces.

A decentralized mobility market

The introduction of the autonomous mobility is likely to be a transition from scenario 1 to scenario 2. It is the government’s job to invest in achieving scenario 2 as soon as possible, the scenario of shared mobility. The market, in which scenario 2 will be played, must be quickly traced out.

The government must prevent that nuclear data centers arise. Data on patterns and infrastructure must be a collective property, managed by the government. Each new player on the market must have a chance to become at least as large as other providers. A decentralized market benefits the user and provides tax revenues that could be collected locally. We look forward to the introduction of the autonomous car, but the wheel of market development we’ll better keep in own hands.

As part of the Interreg-Project Care-North+, Mpact participated in an international workshop about the autonomous car in the German city Wremen. In March, Mpact organized a sequel together with Autopia and invited 25 persons, including mobility experts, philosophers, etc. You can find the report here. This blog is a personal reflection inspired by both events.