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Driverless cars – a motoring heaven or hell?

Driverless cars – a motoring heaven or hell?

Institute of Advanced Motorists

3 min read Partner content

Neil Greig, Director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Policy and Research, questions the safety risks involved in achieving a future with driverless cars.

The introduction of driverless cars could potentially eliminate the biggest cause of deaths and injury on our roads – human beings! They could also improve fuel efficiency and possibly even reduce congestion – all worthy goals, but of course that fails to take account of the fact that all humans are different.

Many, among them lots of IAM members, actually like driving and would be loath to leave control of a fast moving vehicle to a machine – they ask themselves can I really trust it 100% in the real world? For others the prospect of putting your feet up or doing some work while your journey unfolds in a stress free manner can’t come quick enough. In a recent survey we found that 40% of motorists would never consider using a driverless car. Furthermore, 65% of people are sceptical as to whether or not driverless technology is actually a good idea.

In the sci fi vision of the future every car will eventually be autonomous and safe but getting there without creating new safety problems is a concern to the IAM. Driverless car trials start in 2015 in three locations on England. The IAM are involved in the TRL led Greenwich pilot and we support 100% the need for such studies to actually inform this debate – no one really knows how these things will work in congested Britain. It will take at least 10 to 14 years to replace all the current cars on the road. Managing that mix of human and machine controlled vehicles will be a challenge.

The issue that requires the most urgent clarification is liability for any collisions involving a driver less car. Is the driver responsible, as now, or the driverless car maker? The answer will have a key influence on insurance costs and consumer confidence. As well as the legal issues we will need to review driver training in the future – How do we help drivers cope with the change from auto to manual control? Will some be happy with a driverless car only licence and not see the need for training in traditional car control at all? How can this then be policed? MOT testing will need to ensure that all the technology works and it would be unfair for example if motorways became the domain of a privileged few who can afford to join a platoon of high tech vehicles. On the plus side driverless cars need bright white lines and signs which will benefit us all but will put added pressure on councils to up their game.

Finally, we also feel there is a need for clarification on data protection. Who owns the data being processed by all these sensor equipped cars? Can owners get a say or a share in its value? It is also becoming clear that the motorway pile up of the future may not be caused by a dozy driver but by a computer hacker far from the scene. You might feel great but if your car gets a virus who knows what might happen! Welcome to the future of motoring.

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