Driverless cars: vital questions answered

Driverless cars

The LUTZ Pathfinder pod will begin real-life testing in Milton Keynes in 2015 (Picture © Transport Systems Catapult)

Driverless cars are the future of motoring according to the British Government. It wants Britain to be a centre for the technology and has given an initial £19m towards a pilot project. A new report by the Department for Transport (DfT) believes the challenging driving conditions and weather in the UK make it the perfect place for testing driverless cars. We look at what the trial entails, how drivers can benefit, and the potential threats. 

Driverless cars: What is the trial?
The first driverless cars will be trialed in Milton Keynes and Coventry, Greenwich in London and Bristol. They will essentially be self-driving pods, initially probably very slow moving, and they will need to carry a qualified test driver to supervise the vehicle. Meanwhile, the Government will review current legislation around driverless cars with the results to be published in 2017. These will consider whether a higher standard of driving should be demanded of automated vehicles and how drivers and pedestrians can be kept safe.

Driverless cars: How do car owners benefit?
The road safety charity Brake says 94 per cent of road deaths and injuries are the result of human error. Driverless cars could significantly reduce that figure. It would also save the six working weeks the average English driver spends behind the wheel. The DfT report says it will “open up cars for everyone”, benefiting the aged and disabled as well as the 46 per cent of 17-30 year-olds who don’t hold a full driving licence.

Driverless cars: What will ‘drivers’ do?
The DfT’s report claims: “For the first time since the invention of motor vehicles, the ‘driver’ will be able to choose whether they want to be in control, or to hand the task of driving over to the vehicle itself. This represents a major opportunity – allowing drivers to safely use the journey time however they wish, from reading a book to surfing the web, watching a film or just chatting face to face with other passengers.”

Driverless cars: What about the law?
There will have to be huge changes in the law as we know it. Currently, car makers can’t sell vehicles where a driver isn’t ultimately in control. Much of the technology we’re used to on today’s cars will feature on driverless cars but the fully automated car will mean that motorists will no longer need to hold a driving licence.

The DfT report adds: “Drivers will be able to disengage from the driving task and undertake other activities if desired. For example, manufacturers may wish to market this technology on the basis that it will allow the driver to use a hand-held mobile phone, or a laptop, or even change the position of the driver’s seat to face away from the road.” The result will see car makers rather than drivers liable for accidents.

Driverless cars: What are the benefits to Britain?
Business secretary Vince Cable said: “The projects we are now funding will help to ensure we are world leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900 billion industry by £2025.”

Driverless cars: What are the drawbacks?
There are a whole raft of jobs that could disappear. Driving instructors, taxi drivers and delivery drivers could all be made redundant by the driverless technology. And the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) warned that the service and repair sector doesn’t yet have the skills and infrastructure in place to deal with the new technology. The reality is, driverless cars are unlikely to become a familiar sight on our roads much before 2030.

Driverless cars: What are the threats?
Thanks to the high level of computer technology required in driverless cars, the Government recognises that they will be open to attack by hackers. As a result all driverless vehicles will need to have failsafe systems in case they’re hacked into.

2 comments on “Driverless cars: vital questions answered

  1. Thomas Robson February 17, 2015 12:24 pm

    ok i understand that accidents are primarily caused as a result of human error but is eliminating the human element genuinely the best idea? I get that the future will be dominated by technology but this just doesn’t strike me as safe!

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