While other countries around the world, most notably China and the US, are pushing driverless technology forward with Baidu and Google leading the way, the UK could become one of the world’s biggest testing grounds for the technology, as transport minister Claire Perry said today that she had initiated a new study to see how well automated cars would operate on British roads.
“Today’s vehicles are so technically advanced that there is the real prospect that driverless cars could be on our roads in a relatively short amount of time,” said Perry.
“2015 could be the year of the driverless or highly automated car and truck in the UK.”
Driverless cars are already becoming legal on British roadways next year, but Perry said that the study would be important to help assure the public that bringing cars without drivers to the UKs roads will be safe and that any risks will be dealt with promptly.
However the study will not only focus on the safety and practical use aspects of automated cars and other vehicles, but will also look into public acceptance of the technology and how that could impact its uptake across the country. Different groups will be polled as well, to see if there is any different feelings of acceptance from drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and even horse riders, all of whom’s lives will be affected by the advent of cars without drivers taking to the roadways.
Perry though is already fully convinced that driverless vehicles will bring a boon to Britain. “Driverless technology is the future. We can’t avoid it and I don’t want us to,” she said, suggesting that public transport could be revolutionised. With automated travel she said, bus routes to remote areas would be much more efficient and cost effective, since a driver would not have to be paid.
Other benefits she highlighted, include improved fuel economy and a reduction in congestion, since car sharing would be easier and of course, with better public transport comes less cars on the road.
Understandably though, professional drivers are worried by the technology, which has the potential to replace lorry, taxi and bus drivers in the next few decades. It’s not going to happen over night, but in 10-20 years and a large number of cars on our road will be pootling about without a driver. It’s especially likely to be the case when it comes to static routes like buses and with motorway driving lorries.
Chances are however, automated cars will require an alert driver for some time. Partly that will be to make sure that there is someone to blame in the case of an accident and insurance claim, but otherwise it will also help alleviate any concerns that the public (and indeed the driver themselves) may have about the technology not being entirely safe.