Being the proud owners of such vehicles, we’re not about to continue peddling tired clichés and stereotypes about certain drivers of certain coloured vans. But whilst there’s time, let’s lament the possible passing of your typical 3 men in a white van with Sun-newspapers-and-coffee stuffed-against-the-windscreen-as-they-leer-at-any-female-unfortunate-to-be-passing-as-they-roll-up-to the-traffic-lights scenario.
Because White Van Man as we currently know him is well on his way to becoming an endangered species. Or any delivery driver for that matter. Or driver, full stop. And before David Attenborough commissions the BBC Wildlife Department to make a documentary about it, let’s look into why this is becoming increasingly likely.
In a word? Technology. As the prospect of driverless cars is looking increasingly likely; with some reports predicting all road vehicles to be fully automated by 2030 (just 13 years away!), then our beloved White Van Men will probably be consigned to reclining in an onboard lazy chair, catching up on the important business of reading The Sun and leering over women – the difference being that it’ll now be an online activity – as the automated van takes over the small matter of negotiating traffic and reaching the all-important customer.
It’s really happening. In April this year, a driverless transport trial took place in Greenwich, London, where people were invited to board ‘Harry’, a pod vehicle similar to ones used at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Harry, replete with lasers, sensors and 20 grand’s worth of independent tech, did a steady 15mph whilst managing to avoid any passing obstructions. It’s all part of the GATEway experiment to determine how well humans interact with completely autonomous vehicles.
Similarly, in neighbouring Woolwich, Ocado have started trialling driverless grocery deliveries, which they hope to launch in 2019. The deliveries are not unmanned, however, as one human is required to be ready to pounce in case of ‘driverless’ error and another human needs to physically deliver the item. Companies like Ocado and Amazon will be banking on certain community roads being ‘autonomous only’ in the coming years. And this is without bringing into consideration Amazon’s drone delivery plans, which is another blog altogether.
And how will this affect delivery businesses such as ours? “Yes madam, your driverless pod will bring your goods in 30 minutes. The vehicle has just submitted its latest traffic report to us and is currently speeding your way at a mean rate of 48.7mph.” Of course, a result of driverless autopods populating the roads (with their built-in collision-negating safety sensors) might be a raising of the speed limit.
With 90-95% of accidents occurring through human error, you can see why governments are investing in this kind of technology. Inevitably there’ll be a ‘bedding in’ period where manual driving will be shared with the autonomous, which is likely to be motorway-only to begin with. We’ve been at this strange interim stage before, back in the days when horse-drawn carts shared the roads with petrol-driven vehicles.
But as advancements continue, and full automation is a lifestyle choice before becoming mandatory, there will come a time when insurance premiums rocket for those who choose to remain hands-on when it comes to driving.
So it’s not unreasonable to assume that driving, in its current form, will ultimately become a rich man’s hobby to be enjoyed at private events. And who knows, there may even be special ‘White Van Man’ activities, where groups of workmates can pay to recreate the long-lost art of wolf-whistling at traffic lights in a battered Ford Transit. How’s that for an inversion of reality?
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