Driverless cars coming to British roads very soon!

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July 30th's announcement by the Business Minister, Vince Cable, of a £10m fund for driverless car research and road law changes1 must be one of the most significant developments in motoring for many a long year.  The initiatives mean that we could see driverless cars on our roads as soon as January 2015, with up to three cities hosting the research trials.  Transport minister Claire Perry believes the new technology could not only help to save lives, but also be a method of reducing levels of congestion and assist the government to cut levels of emissions in the UK over time.

Civil servants have been given until the end of this year to publish a review of road regulations, which will cover the need for driverless vehicles to comply with safety and traffic laws, and involve changes to the Highway Code, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

The UK is entering the stage behind some other countries which are already providing access to public routes. The US States of California, Nevada and Florida have all approved tests of the vehicles. In California alone, Google's driverless car has done more than 300,000 miles on the open road. In 2013, Nissan carried out Japan's first public road test of an autonomous vehicle on a highway. In Europe, the Swedish city of Gothenburg has given Volvo permission to test 100 driverless cars (trial scheduled in 2017).2
Google's Driverless Car

There are a number of important implications for vehicle manufacturers, drivers, the general public and of course, insurers, and much activity, liaison and discussion between all parties is being held.  Responding to the government’s announcement, James Dalton, Head of Motor, at the Association of British Insurers (the ABI), said:
The insurance industry is working with Government, vehicle manufacturers, regulators, the legal community and through the industry’s research and repair centre on this potentially life-changing and life-saving technology. Although further research needs to be carried out, with human error accounting for around 90% of road accidents, the potential safety implications of autonomous technology are significant.”

Although at first the concept of a truly driverless car may seem far-fetched, the technological journey from driver-only input to full vehicle autonomy is actually well underway.  Many of us take for granted technology that our parents would not have had in their early cars, such as anti-lock brakes, parking sensors and cruise control; these are all features that give a car a degree of autonomy.  On some new cars – or under development by vehicle manufacturers to be launched just around the corner, are further technologies that will change the driving experience even more: adaptive cruise control combined with lane control systems will make large parts of journeys under the control of the car, with the driver simply monitoring, as opposed to constantly operating, the pedals and the steering.

Lower insurance premiums

If the human error factor in driving is eliminated, driverless cars could mean up to a 90% reduction in the number of road traffic accidents that take place each year.  There should be a knock-on effect of lower insurance premiums, as a result of insurance companies making fewer accident payouts.  And that would be very welcome news for the motorist!  

However, despite the potential gains in road safety, pollution control and lower car insurance premiums, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that not everyone will want to hand over their driving ‘reins’ to a computer.  The Director of AA Cars, David Bruce, said
“ . . . there is a big leap of faith needed by drivers from embracing assistance systems to accepting the fully automated car. Two-thirds of AA members still enjoy driving too much to want a fully automated car.”
Click here to find out How Driverless Cars Work.

Meanwhile, we’ll watch this space, as they say!