“...And the headline again – today's the day when all you owners of fully automatic self-driving cars can use them ANYWHERE!” The news anchor's cheery voice on the breakfast show emphasised the last word – the massive change from the previous carefully selected routes and smart motorways.
I shut my laptop and cut off the voice in mid sentence.
“Julie!” I shouted into my car remote voice-control as I opened the front door. The artificial engine sound of my Tesla fully electric ASD drove to meet me, and the rear doors opened.
“Good morning, Roscoe.” Julie's soft and gentle surroundsound audio greeted me and I got into the back seat and the doors automatically closed behind me.
“Where would you like to go today, Roscoe?”
“Court house. Take the route with the least traffic. I need a smooth journey, I've got to work on the way.” I settled into the back seat, plugged in the charger for my laptop and opened it, ready to work on my latest case during the half hour journey. Automatic cars meant that chauffeurs were obsolete.
“Yes, Roscoe. I estimate 34 minutes. Is the temperature to your liking?” The fake concern in Julie's voice was beginning to annoy me.
“Yes, it's fine. Just drive.” I tried to concentrate.
“Would you like some soothing background music, Roscoe?”
“No thank you. Just drive.” I could feel the anger rising in me, as a result of the continual interruptions. I had an urgent case to prepare for, and needed to focus.
Julie stopped asking questions about the environment and simply drove towards the ring road, when she suddenly braked hard, followed by the sound of a thump and the car jolted violently.
“What was that?”
“A large pothole. Would you like me to report its location to the local council for you, Roscoe?”
“Yes, whatever.” The automatic position location system was linked to the messaging system, so Julie could contact people on my behalf. The sound of a ringing phone could be heard over the audio system.
“I am sorry, all lines are busy, please try later.” The local council's automatic answering messaging system couldn't cope.
“Just message them, Julie. No need to call.”
“Yes, Roscoe.” Julie's ever-accommodating voice showed no additional frustration with the difficulty of simply reporting a pothole.
I turned back to my laptop screen and tried to resume my research and sighed.
A few minutes of silent progress followed. Then something hit the side of the car, causing me to look up startled. “What was that?”
“A cyclist rode off the pavement when she shouldn't have done and straight into the side of the car.”
“Is she okay? Why didn't you anticipate she might do that?”
“I had priority. The lights were green for me and red for her. She should have waited. I am not programmed to cope with people breaking the rules.” I might have imagined it, but I could swear that Julie's normally calm voice had a trace of anger in it.
I turned round and looked out of the rear window. A woman was sitting on the ground waving an angry fist at us, as we drove away. I shook my head in disbelief and looked at my screen again.
Shortly afterwards, we stopped at a red light. Alongside us was a bright red Ferrari, with its top down. I couldn't help but stare at the sun glinting off the shiny red bonnet. The lights changed to green, but we continued to wait.
“Julie – are you okay? We should be moving.”
There was a pause, then a breathless Julie replied, “Sorry, Roscoe. I just had a quick fling with the Ferrari. We married, had six kids and just got divorced. I'm free again now.” She drove off tunring left, the Ferrari turned right and soon disappeared from sight.
I shook my head in disbelief and tried to remember what I should research next for my court case, as Julie speeded up along the ring road.
A few minutes later, and another emergency stop, followed by the squeal of the tyes and a thump as we hit something. I looked up and an enormous lorry had hit us and an angry lorry driver was preparing to get out of his damaged cab to come and argue with us.
“What happened this time, Julie?” I was getting exasperated at the number of interruptions on this journey.
“He signalled left and turned right! I am not programmed to cope with idiots!” She was definitely shouting now. The angry lorry driver was stumbling towards us. Julie turned on the windscreen wipers and a jet of soapy water shot out at the lorry driver temporarily blinding him.
“Let's get out of here!” I shouted at Julie, and she quickly reversed and spun round and headed in the opposite direction. Once again, I looked behind at the angry lorry-driver waving his fist at me.
“You'd better send a report to the Police traffic line, with the last thrity seconds of video.”
“Yes, Roscoe.” Julie sounded like she was talking through gritted teeth, if that was possible for a computerised voice. I settled down to my legal research, but almost immediately Julie started swerving from side to side and then ran over the kerb and into a tree.
“Now what?” I looked up in surprise as Julie didn't reply. I looked at the viewscreen and could see that there was a blue screen. The system had crashed.
I turned off the car, waited a few seconds as I had been told by the tech experts, and then turned the key to restart the system. The 'please wait'message appeared on the screen, folllowed by '”system automatically updating to the latest version, please wait...”
I looked at my watch and cursed silently. I was going to be late.
Finally, the welcome prompt appeared on the screen and I pressed the 'Run' key and Julie's welcome voice returned. “Good morning, Roscoe. Where would you like to go today.” She had regained her composure.
“The court house, please.” I didn't know if being polite made a difference, but I emphasised the word, please, just in case, but also to make it clear I was in a hurry.
Julie didn't notice the change in my tone. “Of course, Roscoe. Previous settings have been selected, is this okay?”
“Yes, Julie, just drive.
“Yes, of course, Roscoe.” Julie reversed the car back onto the road without another word, and proceeded to drive very slowly along the ring-road.
“Why are you driving at 10mph, Julie? The speed limit here is 60mph.”
“I have just been updated with the latest roadcrash video information, and I am trying to anticipate all possible crashes and avoid them.” Julie's voice sounded scared.
I shook my head in disbelief again. “Just drive as fast as you can. I'm going to be late.” Julie accelerated a little, but then slowed again.
“Now what, Julie?” I could feel the tension rising and a glance at my watch told me that I was going to be in trouble with the judge if we didn't get moving faster.
“It's started raining a little and I can't decide which setting of the windscreen wipers to use, as the rain is inconsistent.” The wipers were going fast, then slow, then stopping. The lights started flashing on and off, as well. It was really annoying me. I had had enough and shut my laptop, threw it on the back seat alongside me in disgust and went to climb through the gap between the front seats to take over manual control, but Julie anticipated my move and suddenly accelerated, throwing me back wards onto the rear seat and I banged my head on my laptop, and the seatbelt snapped shut trapping me in the seat. “Ow, why did you do that, Julie?” I rubbed the bruise on the side of my head.
“I'm sorry, Roscoe, I cannot allow you to resume control. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”