Jeremy Clarkson Would Rather Drive Himself Than Let an AV Programmed to Kill Him

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are still some distance away, but many countries are already preparing for their arrival by modifying existing traffic codes and regulations. Just this week, the UK announced new provisions for driverless cars, including what can and can’t be done at the wheel.
Jeremy Clarkson says he would rather continue driving then hop into an autonomous car that is "instructed to kill" him 6 photos
Photo: Instagram / Jeremy Clarkson
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Jeremy Clarkson is none too impressed with them. The automotive journalist and car enthusiast may be spending most of his time farming these days (and doing farm-related activities), but he can still spare a few minutes to put in his two cents. He does just that in a new column for The Sun, where he tackles the new provisions for the Highway Code.

These provision specify that drivers in driverless cars (AVs) will be able to watch video content when at the wheel, on the condition that they’re either stuck in traffic or moving on the highway at speeds under 37 mph (60 kph). That said, phone usage remains off-limits in all cases, because drivers (operators?) have to stay alert and take over from the machine in case of an emergency.

How that’s even possible if they’re caught up in their latest series or favorite film is a question that’s yet to be addressed by regulators. Clarkson would like to answer it for them, in the most Clarkson way: it’s not. The whole thing is beyond stupid, he writes: either AVs will be completely safe and trustworthy, which means drivers should be able to do anything they want when the car drives itself, or they’re not safe, in which case we shouldn’t even be thinking about putting them on the road.

As far as Clarkson is concerned, it’s the latter. Current autonomous technology works wonderfully, except when it doesn’t – and it’s that fraction of a second that can make all the difference. Apparently oblivious of or intentionally ignoring the fact that we only have Level 2 autonomy vehicles on the road today, and that Level 5 will be necessary for full self-driving capabilities, Clarkson says AVs are programmed to kill the occupant.

“I’d rather just drive the damn car myself. It’s not a hard thing to do,” he writes. “And I’d far rather have a car which is just a car. Because a driverless car – and this is a guarantee – will have an on-board brain which, in certain circumstances, will be instructed to kill you. If the choice is between hitting a party of schoolchildren or a giant oak tree, you are going into the tree. And you paid money for that – for a machine which has instructions to end your life.”

Invoking the trolley car problem to speak against autonomous tech seems like over-generalization, and it takes out the human element and how badly it could affect such an equation – like in the case of a learner or unexperienced driver.

But Clarkson is not one for nuances. He seems to infer that either AVs be made 100% safe and then be allowed to roam without human supervision of any kind, which would mean zero restrictions for the human on board; or banished altogether if that 100% is not reached. These provisions do nothing but turn the commute into a boring, slow-trundling ride that would be faster, more efficient and more comfortable by train. “[The train] even comes with a chauffeur. Who has no instructions, ever, to kill you,” Clarkson says.

A computer “instructed to kill you” is a brutal way of putting it, but then again, Clarkson was never one to be mindful of how other people might feel about what he says or how he sees things. Clarkson clearly sees AVs in black and white, with no gray in between, and he comes very close to fearmongering in expressing that.

Autonomous tech has to evolve to get to that 100% level of safety, and it will most likely do that through a series of unfortunate accidents as well. As awesome as it might be, you can’t just make something perfect from the start, especially when there are so many variables involved. Governments have to adapt and evolve with the tech, and provisions like those two mentioned above are just one step in the right direction, not the full journey.
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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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