When you think about buying a car in the post-pandemic world, it’s impossible not to consider the implications of our recent experience with infectious diseases. How can you safely get inside a small space with someone else? What’s safe to touch? Or should you be resigned to a future of driving alone and constantly wiping every surface clean?
Even as we continue to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, technological advances can help to answer these questions. Here’s how you can expect emerging developments to reshape your experience as a car owner in the future.
Simulators for driving safety and testing
For many young people, the driving test is a modern rite of passage. Unfortunately, due to the high level of concern regarding public health and safety, it’s a ritual that might be temporarily unavailable in many areas. Some states are in a wait-and-see pattern; others have resumed testing as long as CDC and health department procedures are observed.
Like many changes brought about by the pandemic, the future of testing for drivers is uncertain. But does it have to be? You can use a flight simulator to prepare for picking up a private pilot license; surely, driving safely over land could be certified virtually?
Studies show that driving simulators are effective at training higher-order cognitive and safety skills. A virtual test can also be standardized, eliminating issues of regional variance and examiner fairness. All of this can take place without risking accidents.
Advances in these programs will eventually make it possible to overcome the challenge of simulating the driver’s environment with high fidelity. It’s a matter of time before institutions and regulations evolve to recognize and incorporate these advantages.
The purchase experience
Most student drivers will want to take the next step after passing their test and move on to car ownership. But buying a vehicle is not only a significant financial commitment. In the age of the pandemic, it also represents one more potential risk for exposure.
Before you decide to spend on something worth tens of thousands of dollars, it’s only natural to want to inspect the vehicle in person. Few people would consider skipping the test drive. However, visiting a dealership and sitting behind the wheel will have you handling several contact points.
With sales being the lifeblood of their business, dealers have already come up with technology-driven solutions to this problem. Virtually the entire process can be conducted online. You can arrange for a real-time video viewing of your chosen model, get credit application approved, and even schedule pick-up or delivery for test-driving purposes.
COVID-19 is easily spread through contact with infected surfaces. And your car is full of contact points, whether you’re the driver or a passenger. Door handles, seat covers, seat belts, steering wheels, gear shifts, and handbrakes; each of these will need to be disinfected after a ride.
All that cleaning can add up to significant wear and tear on the surfaces of your vehicle’s interior. And it might not even be that effective. The WHO suggests that traditional cleaning methods are only about 60% effective in reducing the risk of transmission.
The solution is one that’s already being used to clean many households: AI-controlled robots. Some modifications need to be made. The robot would have to be able to navigate a car’s interior and disinfect instead of simply cleaning surfaces. But we are already heading there, with methods such as UV light or vapor cannons being implemented to sterilize even hard-to-reach areas with 99% coverage.
Autonomous driving in the future
Ultimately, the biggest concern about cars in relation to COVID-19 and similar diseases is one of design. We simply don’t make cars with the consideration of limiting disease transmission in mind.
The traditional concept of a car might be rendered obsolete. This doesn’t mean we will eventually stop using cars altogether. But we have to revisit and rework the entire design concept. Currently, it’s all but impossible for people to observe physical distancing or avoid breathing recirculated air.
We can make cars bigger, with enclosed pockets of ventilation; we can have doors open and close automatically, reducing the points of contact. But one technological improvement that’s far closer to becoming a reality is autonomous driving.
In China, Baidu deployed a fleet of driverless vehicles to assist in frontline operations. Locally, the likes of Toyota and GM are using their respective divisions of autonomous driving to help deliver groceries and health packages.
Some of these solutions will take time to arrive; others are already here, and being tested or already used extensively. Keep up with these changes, and you can be among the first to take advantage of their potential to improve your health and safety as a car owner.