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Alice and Neil discuss whether we would miss driving as driverless cars are tested in cities around the world

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Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript.

Alice Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Alice…

Neil And I’m Neil. What do you think about autonomous cars, Alice?

Alice An autonomous - or independent and driverless - car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. I think they’re a great idea.

Neil And navigate means’ to find the way to get to a place’. I’m not sure I would trust a computer to drive me. It might go wrong and crash into a wall.

Alice Maybe, but actually most car accidents involve an element of human error, and human error means ‘the mistakes we make because we’re human’. For example, people who are behind the wheel while tired or drunk - or distracted.

Neil Behind the wheel: in other words, in control of a car. Yes, I often see people talking on their mobile phones - or texting - instead of looking at the road.

Alice They are being irresponsible drivers, Neil. Driving is the subject of today’s show. I have a question for you. On average, how many people around the world die each day from road accidents? Is it… a) 300? b) 3,000? Or c) 30,000?

Neil And I’m going to say b) 3,000.

Alice Well, we’ll see if you were right or not later on in the show. Are you a petrol head, Neil?

Neil No, I’m not a petrol head - which is somebody who loves cars and driving. But I know Eddie Jordan, a racing team owner, is. And what does he love about driving? He’ll answer this question himself. Let’s listen.

INSERT Eddie Jordan, racing team owner When I get in a car I feel a different person, I feel that I’m now in control. I can turn on the music or I can turn it off. I can do all sorts of different things that I feel good about. When I was flat out with the Jordan team I did have a driver and that was one to be able to make calls and to be able to receive calls and to be able to work in the car, not because I didn’t want to drive and I always felt cheated because there was a driver there taking the pleasure that I should be having. So when I get in a car it has to be a fun experience.

Neil Eddie Jordan there. And doing something flat out means ‘at maximum capacity’. Do you feel like a different person when you’re driving, Alice?

Alice No. And - unlike Eddie Jordan - I’d love to have a driver or a driverless car, for that matter. It gives you time to do other things, like getting some work done. I certainly wouldn’t feel cheated of the pleasure of driving!

Neil I agree with Eddie Jordan. I would feel a bit cheated. And I have to admit: I’m a bit of a backseat driver. I sit in the passenger seat and give the driver unwanted advice.

Alice Well just think, Neil, in a driverless car, you wouldn’t need to give the computer advice because it would be making the right decisions to get you to your destination safely.

Neil But can you override the computer? You know, if you felt that it was making bad decisions?

Alice Override in this context means ‘to stop an automatic action by taking control yourself’. Airline pilots do that, don’t they? They fly on autopilot for most of the journey, but override it in order to take control of the plane for take-off and landing.

Neil I would feel happier if I could take back control of an automated car if I wanted to.

Alice Well, let’s listen now to Brian Fung, a technology reporter, who’s experienced what it is to be in a driverless car that has no steering wheels, no brake pedals, no emergency brake, no gear shifter. Google is developing a car in which everything will be self-contained.

INSERT Brian Fung, technology reporter Well, the biggest thing you notice right off the bat is that the car accelerates a little bit more aggressively than a regular car might and it brakes a little more aggressively than a regular car might but other than that it takes about ten seconds for you to get pretty comfortable. And the car knew how to stop for red lights; it knew how to run through yellow lights, it could detect pedestrians and navigate its way around parked cars. All in all, it felt very similar to a regular car-driving experience. And I think that’s one of the most surprising and exciting things about it - it’s how mundane it was.

Neil Brian Fung says he noticed right off the bat that the Google car accelerated and braked more aggressively than a regular car - and right off the bat means ‘immediately’.

Alice But he also says it took him only ten seconds to get used to it and feel comfortable, as the car navigated appropriately and responded to different traffic situations, including pedestrians and parked cars.

Neil Well, that all sounds very nice, but I think I’d still prefer to be in the driving seat - and that means ‘in control of a situation’. You can take the driverless car, and do your work, Alice.

Alice Well, the future is likely to be all about automated transport - planes, trains, buses, and cars - and you simply won’t have a choice, Neil.

Neil Maybe you’ll be allowed to hire a car you can drive yourself, just for fun.

Alice Maybe. But I like the idea of a future with safe driverless roads.

Neil I still need some convincing. And that brings us back to today’s quiz question. Can you tell us the answer, now please, Alice?

Alice Of course I can! I asked: On average, around how many people around the world die each day from road accidents? Is it… a) 300, b) 3,000 or c) 30,000?

Neil And I said 3,000.

Alice And unfortunately Neil that’s right! Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day. That’s according to Annual Global Road Crash Statistics.

Neil Now, here are the words we learned today: autonomous navigate human error behind the wheel petrol head flat out backseat driver override right off the bat in the driving seat

Alice And that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English. Don’t forget to join us again soon!

Both Bye!

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