A few weeks ago at lunch, one of my colleagues made a remark that sparked off a heated conversation. He said "I can't wait for auto drive cars to get here". Another colleague backed up this sentiment so I waded in with my big wooden oar and asked what possible benefit they could see from a car that drives itself. They gave me the usual answer most people come up with - they want to get from A to B but they find driving a chore. I pointed out that they could take a taxi, or public transport right now and it would give them exactly what they wanted. They could sit there sending twits or facespace updates and not have to worry about the act of driving. Now one interesting part of this debate came about when we got to the area of responsibility. The two in question are both tea-party supporters and have opined regularly about how personal responsibility seems to be a thing of the past, how people seem to ready to blame and place their own responsibilities in the hands of others (by which they mean the government). So I pointed out that auto-drive cars are the pinnacle of abandoning personal responsibility. By wanting an auto-drive car, you effectively want a computer to take responsibility for the two ton weapon you're sitting in. And this is why auto-drive cars will never happen. Our society is too litigious for this to ever come true. People will place too much faith in technology and the first time an auto-drive car mows down a child in the street, or causes a multi-car pile-up, the lawyers will get involved because the owners (you can't call them drivers at this point) will simply say "but the car should have stopped itself!"
At this point in the debate, my two colleagues, knowing I'm also an aircraft nerd, decided to try to be clever by pointing out that every time we fly, we're quite happy to let the aircraft fly on autopilot. Didn't work, obviously, because first of all, I don't own the aircraft and I'm not a pilot so I have no responsibility for the aircraft or where it goes. Being a passenger on an aircraft is akin to being a passenger in a bus or a taxi. But secondly, look up - do you see commercial airlines packed 10ft apart, nose-to-tail, wingtip to wingtip in the sky? No you don't.
For auto-drive to even be vaguely feasible, the various manufacturers must first agree on a common system whereby all the cars can talk to each other and thus communicate their intentions (in the same way that collision-avoidance systems work in aircraft). That system also needs to be ultra-secure to avoid remote tampering. History has proven that competing manufacturers can almost never agree on something like this, and coupled with the lawyer issue, auto-drive cars will never happen.
Anyway - I can't imagine a more joyless world for motorists than cars that drive themselves.