Driverless cars will be a reality within a decade and a proposed new bill that’s part of the Queen’s Speech will pave the way for it. The Queen has revealed legislation that will be introduced to allow driverless cars to be insured with regular policies. The government hopes it will result in cars that are autonomous (control themselves) becoming a common sight by 2025.
Currently, the insurance industry believes 94 per cent of crashes are caused by human error. Driverless cars would cut this figure significantly. Independent organisation Thatcham Research, which works with the insurers to assess how expensive cars are to repair, has put together this timeline on how we’ll move into a world of driverless cars.
Where we are today
Even cheap-to-run city cars such as the Fiat Panda can be ordered with technology that allows them to take control in certain circumstances. Cameras and radar monitor the road ahead. They can automatically apply the brakes or guide the vehicle back into its lane if they detect that the driver isn’t responding to a hazard. Some systems – Volvo has one called Pilot Assist – will drive the car at speeds up to 30mph, controlling steering, acceleration and braking. Currently the systems only work if the driver keeps their hands on the steering wheel.
2018: The landmark year
There will be an important development in the route towards self-driving cars in just two years’ time. Some cars, most likely upmarket executive models, will have an auto pilot function. The driver will have to remain in control but legislation will permit ‘hands-off’ driving on motorways. The car will continue to drive itself safely for up to three minutes if the driver takes their hands off the wheel. After that period elapses, the car will warn the driver that they need to re-engage with the car. If the driver doesn’t put their hands back on the wheel, the car will bring itself to a safe and controlled halt.
2021: Moving towards total autonomy
Within five years, there will be defined segments of the motorway network where cars will be able to take complete control for longer periods of time. Using radar, cameras and laser scanners – many of which are already fitted to some vehicles – the car builds a complete picture of its immediate environment. This enables it to make informed decisions on braking and steering safely. The driver has to stay at the wheel but can perform other tasks such as reading.
2025: Driverless cars
Within the decade a car will be able to drive itself hands-free from door to door. In addition to motorways, it will be able to navigate its way around the urban environment, including traffic lights, junctions and roundabouts. Vehicles that do this will have full connectivity with each other and the road infrastructure. The driver will be at the wheel but Thatcham predicts they won’t have to touch the controls.
Going forwards: The problems that need to be addressed
- Who could be held liable after an accident: drivers, manufacturers, system developers, car dealers, car maintenance firms or a combination?
- How do we cope with vehicles at different levels of automation?
- How will data from individual vehicles be recorded and used to improve safety and clarify liability?
- Do there need to be changes to existing road traffic laws and what might those changes be?
What the experts say
James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers, said: “The presence of driverless cars on UK roads would be life-changing in many ways. Truly driverless cars have the potential to dramatically reduce deaths and injuries on the roads and could revolutionise what we think of as public transport.”
Peter Shaw, chief executive of Thatcham Research added: “Automated driving is developing at pace, and safety is paramount from both a driver’s perspective as well as an insurance risk. Working with car manufacturers and insurers, we’ll be researching and testing systems, to provide insight and evaluation of the potential risks and benefits at each step of the way towards a world where cars can drive themselves.”