Driverless cars will hit British roads NEXT YEAR and UK minister suggests parents could bundle kids off to school on their own.
Blind people and school run children could be among the first to enjoy the ‘truly transformational’ benefits of driverless cars on UK roads, Transport Minister Claire Perry told a road safety conference.
Mrs Perry announced a new study to see how other drivers will react to having robo-cars sharing the road with them – and how they should be marked to distinguish them from conventional cars – saying the technical and legal issues were less of a challenge than the ‘cultural’ ones.
The minister also seemed to suggest children could at some point be packed off to school in a driverless car on their own. She acknowledged that to many people the idea seems ‘sci-fi’, ‘alien’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘feels a bit weird.’
But most of the technology was already fitted to modern cars. And work was already underway to change the law and insurance rules to allow them on UK roads.
It comes just weeks before the Government announces who will run the first pilot schemes in Britain from January 1, as ministers accelerate plans to bring the hands-free cars onto the nation’s roads to make 2015 ‘the year of the driverless car.’
Highlighting the ‘great social benefits’ of driverless cars Mrs Perry said: ‘The advantage of driver assisting technology for disabled people or those with poor eyesight are clear’.
She said she had seen a video of a man reported to have lost 95 per cent of his vision driving a Google self-driving prototype car.
‘Let’s just imagine the life-changing opportunity then of a driverless car, not just for blind and partially sighted-people, but for all in our community. It will be truly transformational.’
She said: ‘What about the challenge for time-poor mothers with school runs to do? Driver assisting technology could open up new windows for productivity in jammed days.’
She was speaking at a conference on driverless vehicles organised by the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety held at Thatcham Research in Berskshire.
Having herself tried out some of the driverless demonstration vehicles on show, she declared them ‘fantastic.’
The minister also announced plans for driverless buses – with one of the major bus firms believed to be First Group expressing an interest – and for trials of convoys of driverless lorries ‘platooning’ close together to reduce jams.
She said driverless buses would ‘transform’ services, particularly in rural areas, where the main cost is the driver: ‘Once we have resolved any regulatory issues that the department’s current review might highlight, this could be just the initiative to get the first driverless bus on the road.’
But it is with driverless cars and commercial vehicles ‘where the biggest gains will be delivered’.
The Government has also commissioned a study of how drivers and other road users will react and interact when sharing the road with robo-cars: ‘I do believe this is important as a means to reassure the public that we are careful of the risk, but also recognising the need for progress,’ said Mrs Perry.
But she insisted: ‘Driverless technology is the future. We can’t avoid it and I don’t want us to. I want the UK to learn as much as we can and as quickly as we can. And that includes understanding how these vehicles interact with society and other road users. ‘
Driverless cars and vans will improve safety, lower emissions, reduced noise, reduce jams and make better use ‘of the scarcest commodities of all these days – time and attention. ‘
Driver human error accounts for over 90 per cent of traffic incidents, the MP said: ‘So it is clear that driverless cars will make a huge difference.’
On self-driving juggernauts, she said ministers were looking at ‘platooning’ heavy goods vehicles on major trunk roads – that is using hi-tech electronics to allow them to run nose to tail in close formation.
Following a feasibility study into using trucks with partial automation, but with a driver in each vehicle, she said she has approved the next phase of research to begin next year: ‘So 2015 could be the year of the driverless or highly automated car and truck in the UK’.
Insisting self-driving vehicles were an ‘evolution’ not a revolution she said the technology was mostly an adaption of familiar systems drivers use every day – including anti-lock brakes, adaptive cruise control, automated parking and lane warning: ‘Today’s vehicles are so technologically advanced that there is the real prospect that driverless cars could be on our roads in a relatively short amount of time.’
The main challenge was ‘cultural’ not technical, she insisted: ‘We are so used to being masters – or mistresses – of the road. Invincible. Always right. Even though it’s our own short-comings that lead to most accidents.’
Manufacturers including BMW, Audi, Nissan, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover are looking to develop models with autonomous functions
In July the Government set up a £10million fund to look at how driverless cars can be integrated into everyday life in the UK. Successful bidders will run up to three projects starting on 1 January 2015.
The projects will feature cars with driverless-type capability in an urban environment. And last between 18 and 36 months.
Separately, the Department for Transport is reviewing relevant regulation and legislation ‘to ensure there is a clear and appropriate regime for the testing of driverless cars in the UK whilst also ensuring public safety.’
The Transport Department said the UK had a head start on its Continental rivals in promoting driverless cars because it had not yet ratified the Vienna Convention which specifies drivers must have their hands on the steering wheel.
The Association of British Insurers’ Scott Pendry said the technology will ‘make motorists more like pilots’ and create new levels of liability: ‘The advent of driverless cars on our roads is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Our initial view is that if a system fails on a fully autonomous vehicle causing it to crash, liability would rest with the vehicle or system manufacturer.
‘This potential shift in liability would only occur when a driver has actively given complete control to the vehicle and has no option to intervene.
‘So whether or not there is a complete shift in liability from the driver to the vehicle is likely to depend on whether there is a clear option for the driver to intervene.’
PACTS executive director David Davies said: ‘It’s not pie in the sky. But if this technology spreads, as it looks like it will, drivers will need to be retrained to use it. Technology is not the barrier. It’s how people cope with it.’
Source: Daily Mail / Oct. 23, 2014