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Steering the Future: Driverless Vehicles Heading for Britain’s Roads

27th Feb, 2015

Driverless cars may seem like something from a science fiction novel, but recent developments suggest we could be seeing them on our roads sooner than you may have thought.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced that the government have invested £19 million in the development and testing of driverless technology on public roads in four cities across the UK: Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and the London borough of Greenwich. Areas of development will focus on the technology and safety behind autonomous vehicles, the practicalities of bringing driverless cars to the roads and potential legal and insurance implications. Jaguar Land Rover and Ford are both backing the programme and embracing the possibility of a driver-free future.

With the news that a driverless car has beaten a professional driver for the first time in a race in Northern California, it is apparent that the technology is advancing at an impressive rate. Industry experts are predicting that we will see fully autonomous vehicles on our roads as early as 2020, whilst Vince Cable suggests it could be a £900 billion industry by 2025. With reports of American companies such as Apple testing their own driverless technology, the UK government is investing to remain at the forefront of automotive development and innovation.

Although handing over complete control to a vehicle is a somewhat daunting prospect, there are many benefits of introducing driverless technology on our roads. In Europe alone, around 400,000 lives are lost every year to motoring accidents, an overwhelming majority of which are the result of human error. A significant improvement in road safety and accident reduction is one of the major arguments for implementing driverless technology. Many industry experts suggest that communication between vehicles on the roads – a key area of current development – is the key to dramatically reducing accidents. This would also result in less traffic, with cars able to travel closer together at a safer speed. Another major benefit would be increased mobility for those who currently cannot drive, such as children, the disabled and the elderly.

Damage to the environment and human health from increased carbon emissions is a growing global issue. As well as potentially running on electricity, the vehicles will calculate the most fuel efficient way of driving. Transport Minister Claire Perry commented regarding Cable’s announcement: ‘driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2. We’re determined to ensure driverless cars can fulfil this potential which is why we’re actively reviewing regulatory obstacles to create the right framework for trialling these vehicles on UK roads’.

Despite recent investment, the technology has a long way to go, with critics suggesting that it will be decades before driverless cars will be advanced enough to be an affordable and safe choice.

So while you may not be ditching the driving on your commute quite yet, there are increasingly more environmentally sustainable choices when it comes to choosing a car. The use of electric or hybrid cars is increasing, with more charging points appearing all over the UK. Additionally, early driverless technology is being implemented in models available today. Vehicles are already available which park themselves using sensors, with features such as automatic breaking and smart cruise control helping to prevent accidents, leading the way for a safer era of motoring.

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